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The DASH Diet: The Importance of Milk Products

Catherine M. Champagne, PhD, RD, LDN, FADA

Professor-Research; Chief-Nutritional Epidemiology, Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet—rich in lower-fat milk products, fruits and vegetables—is widely acknowledged by the healthcare community as an important regulator of blood pressure. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive individuals by 11.4/5.5 mmHg and in normotensive individuals by 3.5/2.1 mmHg, similar to or better than results achieved with single-drug therapy.1


The original study

Following three weeks during which participants followed a standard American diet, the DASH study randomized adults (n=459, mean age 44.6 years) with blood pressure readings of less than 160 mmHg (systolic) and 80-95 mmHg(diastolic) to one of three groups for a further eight weeks.1 The control group remained on the standard diet while one group followed a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (8-10 servings/day: Fruits & Vegetables diet) and the other a Combination diet. The Combination diet, also known as the DASH diet, was rich in fruits and vegetables (8-10 servings/day) and lower fat milk products (~3 servings/day) and had reduced amounts of saturated fat, total fat (27% of energy) and cholesterol. Sodium intake was equivalent in all three groups (~3,000 mg/day).

Graph 2


Although the Fruits & Vegetables diet significantly reduced blood pressure compared to the Control diet, the addition of milk products (Combination or DASH diet) led to a decrease in blood pressure that was twice that produced by the Fruits & Vegetables diet alone (see figure). Although low-fat milk products did predominate in the DASH diet, higher fat cheeses were also included, amounting to 27 grams (about 1 oz) per day (see table).2

The DASH diet was designed to achieve an overall fat target of 27% of energy using any combination of foods that would be most acceptable to the participants, including the vastly more appealing full-fat cheese.


  • The Fruits & Vegetables and DASH (Combination) diets significantly lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressures compared to the Control diet.
  • The DASH diet—a combination of fruits, vegetables and milk products—had the greater impact, twice that of the Fruits & Vegetables diet alone.
  • Milk product intake of ~3 servings/day, including moderate amounts of higher fat cheeses, are an appropriate part of an overall healthy dietary pattern such as DASH, which is low in total and saturated fat content.


  1. Appel LJ,Moore TJ, Obarzanek E, et al. A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. N Engl JMed 1997;336:1117-1124.
  2. Karanja NM, Obarzanek E, Lin P-H, et al. Descriptive characteristics of the dietary patterns used in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension trial. J Am Diet Assn 1999;99 (suppl):S19-S27.

Keywords: blood pressure

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