Studies have shown that you can lower your blood pressure by following the DASH eating plan and by eating less salt (sodium).

Following the DASH eating plan or reducing your intake of salt (sodium) will lower blood pressure, but doing both will give you the biggest benefit. 

Sodium intake & high blood pressure

Foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium, but most of the sodium in our diet is added during food processing. Canned and packaged foods are often high in sodium because it is added to preserve food.

Reduce your sodium intake toward 2,000 mg per day to help prevent or manage high blood pressure. Health Canada recommends that people aged 14 and over should not eat more than 2,300 mg sodium per day. This is equal to 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Read the Nutrition Facts labels on foods to compare the amount of sodium in products. Learn more about ways to reduce your salt intake here.

How do I do the DASH?

The DASH eating plan is healthy for people with diabetes. It emphasizes whole grains, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and is low in saturated and trans fats.

The DASH eating plan used along with other healthy behaviour changes can help you control blood pressure. The DASH eating plan also has other benefits, such as lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which, (along with lowering blood pressure), can reduce your risk for heart disease.

Here is an example of a DASH eating plan:

Food group
Servings per day
1 serving is equal to:
Grains 6-8
  • 1 slice bread, or
  • 1 ounce dry cereal, or
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, cereal
Vegetables 4-5
  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, or
  • ½ cup cut up raw or cooked vegetables
Fruits 4-5
  • 1 medium piece of fruit, or
  • ¼ cup dried fruit, or
  • ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit
Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products 2-3
  • 1 cup milk or yogurt, or
  • 1 ½ ounce cheese
Lean meats, poultry and fish No more than 6
  • 1 ounce cooked meats, or poultry, or fish, or 1 egg
Nuts, seeds and legumes 4-5/wk
  • 1/3 cup nuts, or
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter, or
  • 2 tbsp of seeds, or
  • ½ cup cooked legumes
Fats and oils 2-3
  • 1 tsp soft margarine (non-hydrogenated), or
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil, or
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise, or
  • 2 tbsp salad dressing

Combining the DASH eating plan with regular physical activity, such as walking or swimming, can help you shed pounds and stay trim for the long term. You can do an activity for 30 minutes at one time, or choose shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. The important thing is to aim for a total of 150 minutes of activity each week, without going more than two consecutive days without physical activity.

You should be aware that the DASH eating plan has more daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods than you may be used to eating. Because the plan is high in fibre, it can cause bloating and diarrhea in some people. To avoid these problems, increase your intake of these foods gradually.

Getting started with the DASH eating plan

Change gradually

  • If you now eat one or two vegetables a day, add an additional serving at lunch and another at dinner.
  • If you don't eat fruit now, add a serving to your meals or have it as a snack. Choose whole fruit instead of juice.
  • Gradually increase your use of fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products to three servings a day. Drink milk instead of soda, sugar-sweetened tea, or alcohol. Choose fat-free (skim) or low-fat (one per cent) milk and milk products to reduce your intake of fat, cholesterol, and calories.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts label on margarines and salad dressings to choose those lowest in saturated fat and trans fat.
  • Limit lean meats to six ounces a day—it is all you need. Have only three ounces at a meal, which is about the size of a deck of cards or computer mouse.
  • If you now eat large portions of meats, cut them back gradually— by a half or a third at each meal.
  • Include two or more vegetarian (meatless) meals each week.
  • Increase servings of vegetables, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and cooked dry beans in meals. Try casseroles, and stir-fry dishes, which have less meat and more vegetables, grains, and dry beans.

Additional tips

  • Choose whole grain foods for most grain servings for added nutrients, such as minerals and fibre. For example, choose whole wheat bread or whole grain cereals.
  • If you have trouble digesting milk and milk products, try taking lactase enzyme pills (available at drugstores and groceries) with the milk products. Or, buy lactose-free milk, which has the lactase enzyme already added to it.
  • If you are allergic to nuts, use seeds or legumes (cooked dried beans or peas).
  • Use fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned vegetables and fruits

When healthy eating and physical activity are not enough, your doctor may prescribe medication to get your blood pressure in target. Most people need two or more drugs to manage their blood pressure. It is important to take your medication as directed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about your medications.

For more information on the DASH eating plan, including menus and recipe ideas, click here.

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