DASH Diet to Lower Blood Pressure
What you eat can help lower your blood pressure. Find out what delicious foods to include in your diet to help combat high blood pressure.
By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer
Want to lower your blood pressure? Try the DASH eating plan, short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
If your first thought is that the DASH is bland and boring, think again. The DASH is as much about adding tasty, nutrient-rich foods as it is about limiting fats and sugars.
What the studies say
Two large studies, both supported by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, have offered proof that DASH works.
The first study looked at the effects on blood pressure of eating a varied, wholesome diet versus the typical American diet.
- Results showed that compared to the typical American diet, blood pressure could be lowered by eating combinations of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
- DASH eaters also ate reduced amounts of fats, red meats, sweets and sugared beverages.
- Noteworthy is that blood pressures were reduced on the DASH, even though this first study did not restrict sodium intake.
The second study then looked at the added effect of a reduced-sodium intake on blood pressure as people followed either the DASH eating plan or a typical American diet.
- Results showed that reducing sodium lowered blood pressure even further for those already on the DASH eating plan. It also lowered pressures for those on the typical American diet.
- The biggest benefits were seen in people on the DASH eating plan who also lowered their sodium intake.
How the DASH works
Experts believe the DASH eating plan works for these reasons:
- By choosing fruits and vegetables, you're more likely to cut out high-sodium, processed foods. Eating a diet high in sodium may raise your blood pressure and lead to heart disease and stroke. For those with high blood pressure, experts now recommend limiting sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, which is roughly equivalent to two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt.
- The DASH diet is rich in calcium, potassium, fiber and magnesium. A lack of these nutrients is linked to high blood pressure. Adding more potassium-rich foods to your diet can help reduce blood pressure. Potassium can be found in many fruits and vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts and dairy products.
- DASH is low in saturated and trans fats, which are known to raise blood pressure.
- Instead of supplements, the DASH plan focuses on combinations of healthy foods, which work together in your body to help lower blood pressure.
So what exactly IS the DASH eating plan?
The DASH eating plan includes the following:
- 7-8 servings of grains, from mostly whole grains
- 4-5 servings of vegetables
- 4-5 servings of fruit
- 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy foods
- No more than 2 servings of lean meat, poultry and fish
- 2-3 servings of fats and oils
- 4-5 servings of nuts, seeds and dry beans
- No more than 5 servings of sweets
Fitting the DASH into your lifestyle
You can work these DASH nutrient-foods into your meal plan in these ways:
Up your vegetable intake
- Add a variety of veggies to lunch or dinnertime salads and soups.
- Have cut-up veggies such as carrots, colored peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and celery for snacks, with a low-fat yogurt dip.
- Increase vegetable portions of casseroles and stir-fries while decreasing meat portions.
- Add beans/legumes to salads, soups and casseroles.
- Choose whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas.
- Instead of white rice or potatoes, experiment with brown rice, quinoa, barley and bulgur.
- Sprinkle nuts into whole-grain cereal, yogurt or salads.
- Add natural peanut or almond butter to whole-grain bread with sliced banana.
- Snack on small amounts of nuts and dried fruit.
Do it with dairy
- Use skim or low-fat milk in smoothies with fresh fruit and 100-percent juice.
- Add skim or low-fat milk to coffee for lattes.
- Choose low-fat yogurt for breakfast or snacks.
- Use low-fat cheese on whole-grain bread, sprinkled on salads or topped on a baked potato with broccoli.
DASH isn't just for people with high blood pressure. It's an overall healthy, wholesome, high-fiber eating plan than can also help reduce cholesterol levels and aid in weight loss.