DASH Diet to Lower Blood Pressure

An eating plan rich in fruits, veggies and whole grains can help control hypertension.

By Ginny Greene, Editor

Are you one of the millions of Americans with high blood pressure? You may think that managing it includes a life of boring foods and rigid self-discipline. Not so! You can have delicious meals and snacks that can actually help lower your blood pressure.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, makes your heart work harder than it should. It puts extra pressure on your blood vessels and organs.

Research by the nation’s top scientists has shown that an eating plan called DASH can lower blood pressure. DASH is short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It focuses on adding tasty, nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.

DASH isn't just for people with high blood pressure. It's an overall healthy, wholesome, high-fiber eating plan than can also help improve cholesterol levels. All of these healthy changes may help lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.

So what IS the DASH eating plan?
DASH focuses on healthy foods commonly available at the grocery store. How much you should eat depends on how many calories you need each day. This amount is influenced by your age, gender and level of activity.

DASH is high in vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products; whole grains, poultry, seafood (especially fatty fish) and nuts. It is low in red and processed meats, trans and saturated fats, sweets and sugary drinks.

Sodium (salt) intake is known to contribute to high blood pressure. Adults who would benefit from lower blood pressure should consume no more than 2,400 mg per day of dietary sodium. Even more benefits can be seen when sodium is limited to 1,500 milligrams a day.

Most Americans consume far more sodium than that, mostly from processed foods and eating out. If your current diet contains lots of sodium, start by cutting it by at least 1,000 mg a day. That should help bring your blood pressure down as you work toward more desirable levels. Check the sodium content on Nutrition Facts labels and on restaurant menus and choose foods lower in sodium.

Fitting DASH into your lifestyle
Try to work more DASH foods into your meals. Add a variety of veggies to lunch or dinnertime salads and soups. Snack on cut-up veggies. Increase vegetable portions of casseroles while decreasing meat portions. Add beans and peas to salads, soups and casseroles. Choose whole-grain versions of breads, cereals and pastas. And go for low-fat or fat-free dairy.

If you take medicines to control high blood pressure, don’t stop taking them. But tell your doctor that you're following the DASH eating plan. Together you can monitor progress in your blood pressure as you make healthier food choices.