Managing Blood Pressure with a Heart-Healthy Diet

Updated:Apr 8,2016

What foods are best?

Is there a diet plan that will help me choose well?

Eating a heart-healthy diet is important for managing your blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack, heart disease, stroke and other diseases.

Some people prefer to follow a specific eating plan where healthy choices are clearly spelled out. The D.A.S.H. plan is proven effective for lowering blood pressure. Others prefer to educate themselves and practice principles for targeted nutrition improvement. Either way, train yourself to make these changes.

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Get quality nutrition from healthy food sources

Aim to eat a diet that's rich in:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole-grain, high-fiber foods
  • Fat-free and low-fat or 1 percent dairy products
  • Beans
  • Skinless poultry and lean meats
  • Fish, especially fatty fish containing omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, trout and herring (eat at least twice a week)

...And low in:

  • Saturated and trans fats
  • Sodium

And limit:

  • Added sugars

Be sure to work with the chefs in your household and plan together for any dietary changes that are needed. When dining out, look for healthy options.

Be a wise consumer

Eggs And Vegetables At Outdoor MarketBy adopting the habit of reading food labels, you can choose foods more wisely. Watch for foods that have high levels of saturated fat or hydrogenated fat and include trans fat - all factors that can raise your cholesterol. Eating foods that are high in sodium (salt) can increase blood pressure. On average, the higher your salt intake, the higher your blood pressure.

When reading labels, watch for these key terms, and know what they mean.

  • "Free"
    (Examples: cholesterol free, fat free, dairy free)
    If you are seeking to avoid a certain dietary element, the term "free" is your safest bet.
  • "Very Low" and "Low"
    (Examples: very low sodium, low fat, low cholesterol)
    Products labeled "low" or "very low" may be helpful if you are seeking to reduce a certain dietary element.
  • "Reduced" or "Less"
    (Examples: reduced carbs, less sugar, reduced fats)
    These terms always mean the food has 25 percent less of that nutrient than the reference (or standard) version of the food. So if you see "Reduced sugar" peanut butter, it means this version has at least 25 percent less sugar than its standard counterpart.

Look for the heart-check mark

Heart Check Mark Graphic With so many marketing messages being thrown at you in the grocery store, it can be difficult to know what is truly healthy. To make it easier, the American Heart Association developed the heart-check mark. When you see this symbol on food packaging, it means that the product meets the American Heart Association's criteria for saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol for a single serving of the food product for healthy people over age 2. Learn more about the Heart-Check Mark Certification.

The D.A.S.H. eating plan

Close Up Of FruitsAs its name implies, the D.A.S.H. eating plan is designed to help you manage blood pressure without compromising your health. It emphasizes foods listed above and compared to the typical American diet, it also contains less:

  • Red meat
  • Sodium (salt)
  • Sweets, added sugars and sugar-containing beverages

In addition to being easy to follow, delicious and varied, the D.A.S.H. eating plan is proven effective. According to one study, it reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5.5 and 3.0 mm Hg compared to the control diet (what the average American eats). The study showed that the D.A.S.H. eating plan lowered blood pressure in virtually all subgroups defined by race, sex, age, body mass index, education, income, physical activity level, alcohol intake and hypertension status. It was particularly effective in African-Americans and those diagnosed with hypertension.

Download a PDF of the complete D.A.S.H. eating plan.


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This content was last reviewed on 08/04/2014.