Prevention of hypertension, and control of blood pressure in patients with hypertension, are necessary for the reduction of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Lifestyle modifications are one of the most important tools for effective lowering of blood pressure. Most randomized controlled studies have shown that even a modest weight loss of 3–9 % is associated with a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of roughly 3 mm Hg in overweight people. Limitation of sodium chloride in food has historically been considered the critical change for reducing blood pressure. Changes in sodium intake do affect blood pressure in older persons and in patients with hypertension and diabetes, whereas its role in population blood pressure has proven controversial. Recent meta-analyses indicate that adequate intake of minerals, e.g. potassium and probably calcium, rather than restriction of sodium, should be the focus of dietary recommendations. Although epidemiological data point to a direct relation between the intake of saturated fat, starch and alcohol, as well as an inverse relationship to the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, our knowledge about macronutrients and blood pressure is scanty. It may well prove more productive to look at food instead of placing emphasis on single nutrients. Thus the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) demonstrates that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fibre and minerals (calcium, potassium and magnesium) produces a potent antihypertensive effect. Such a diet is not very restrictive and should not produce compliance problems. Further high-quality research on the influence of macronutrients and food will yield data for updated recommendations, enabling better prevention and control of the blood pressure problem.