Tweaking the DASH Diet for High Blood Pressure

If you're following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet to help keep your blood pressure under control, eating full-fat dairy products won't thwart your efforts, a recent study suggests.

Substituting full-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt for low-fat or nonfat dairy products did not reverse the benefits of staying on the DASH eating plan. The DASH diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, provides potassium, calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients that significantly lower blood pressure and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

In the study, published in the February 2016 issue of the American Jounral of Clinical Nutrition, 36 adults ate either a typical U.S. diet, a standard DASH diet, or a higher-fat, lower-carbohydrate DASH diet for three weeks each. The higher-fat DASH diet was found to lower blood pressure as much as the standard DASH diet; there was no significant increase in LDL cholesterol, despite its higher saturated fat content. As a bonus, it modestly reduced triglycerides (fats in the blood) compared to the other two diets.

To compensate for the extra calories in the higher-fat foods, the participants ate less sugar than in the standard DASH plan, mostly by consuming less fruit juice. The study was partly funded by the dairy industry.

This variation to the DASH diet could make it more appealing to people who want to control their blood pressure but find the eating plan too restrictive. However, it's important to pay attention to the amount of sodium in some dairy products, such as cottage cheese and other types of cheeses.