High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is something that affects many people. It is a cardiovascular problem that increases the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. There are lots of ways you can reduce your blood pressure. Daily exercise is crucial to maintaining healthy blood pressure. Having a healthy weight and reducing stress are also good ways of avoiding hypertension or reducing it. Another good way of controlling blood pressure is through diet. People with high blood pressure are often recommended to reduce their intake of salt, which raises blood pressure. The DASH diet is a plan that focuses on eating for healthy blood pressure.
What Does DASH Stand For?
The DASH Diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is specially designed to help prevent hypertension or reduce blood pressure in those who already had hypertension. This has a direct link to reducing the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.
How Does the DASH Diet Work?
DASH focuses on fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low fat, sugar, and salt. There are a number of important components that make this a heart-healthy, blood-pressure reducing plan. Let’s have a look at the essential components of the DASH diet with some practical ideas for how to make it work, even if you have a busy lifestyle.
Sodium – One of the big elements of this diet plan is reducing sodium. This means cutting down on salt intake. The majority of people eat too much salt in their daily diets. Processed food, in particular, is full of hidden salt. Cutting out processed foods and snacks and cooking from scratch without using salt in cooking and not adding salt as a seasoning to meals can dramatically reduce your sodium intake. There are low-sodium alternatives, but experts advise that your taste palette will quickly adjust to not having salt, and you will actually enjoy the true taste of your food more. On the DASH diet, it is recommended to consume no more than 2300 mg of salt. Some people may further restrict their salt intake to 1500 mg on the lower sodium version of the diet for an even better reduction in blood pressure.
Vegetables – Veggies are the key element of the DASH diet. By increasing the amount of fresh vegetables you eat each day, not only are you going to reduce your blood pressure, but you are also going to increase your dietary fiber intake (improving gut health) and boost your nutritional intake of vitamins and minerals essential for health. Try to view vegetables as the main part of the meal instead of as a side dish. Swapping out some carbs in a meal for vegetables can be an easy way of changing the proportions of what you are eating. Try each day to “eat the rainbow” by including as many vegetables of different colors as you can. Salads, stir-fries, and casseroles are a great way to create vegetable-packed meals with lots of flavor.
Fruits – If you have a sweet tooth, then fruit is your best friend! Including a piece of fruit with each meal or choosing to have fruit for breakfast or dessert can be a great way of boosting your intake of fiber, minerals, and vitamins, as well as satisfying any cravings for something sweet and delicious. Fruit is the ideal snack, so if you are going out, take an apple, orange, or banana to avoid the urge to buy salt-laden convenience foods when out. A fruit salad with some natural yogurt is a satisfying dessert that delivers important nutrients for heart health.
Grains – Choosing the right grains is important for many aspects of our health. Try to opt for brown, unrefined versions of bread, pasta, and rice. Refining these foods to make white versions actually removes a lot of the dietary fiber and nutrients. This can mean that you feel less full. Brown bread, whole grain pasta, and brown rice will all leave you feeling fuller for longer and deliver so much more important nutrition. This contributes to heart health and may also help curb those food cravings often caused by the spike and drop in blood sugar after eating refined carbohydrates.
Dairy – Dairy produce, or dairy alternatives for those who choose a plant-based diet, are important sources of calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Low-fat dairy is recommended because dairy fat tends to be the bad kind – saturated fat. Milk, cheese, and yogurt can be enjoyed in moderation, but choose low-fat versions. Watch out for the sodium levels in cheese and the sugar added to some yogurts. Choosing healthy, natural versions is best.
Meat, Poultry, and Fish – Protein is very important in any diet, and lean meat, poultry, and fish are great sources. They also deliver important nutrition such as iron and B vitamins. On the DASH diet, it is recommended that you keep your intake of these foods to 6 one-ounce servings (or less) per day. Choose lean varieties rather than heavily processed meat products. Processed meats such as burgers, sausages, bacon, and deli meats tend to have a lot of salt added. Instead, choose lean cuts of meat and season using herbs and spices for a tasty meal that doesn’t put your health at risk.
Legumes, Seeds, and Nuts – These can also be a good source of protein, especially for those who do not eat meat. Legumes, seeds, and nuts are packed with nutrients and fiber, too, so they are a great way to deliver what your body needs. Four or five servings of these foods a week are recommended. Take care that you don’t overdo it with nuts that are high in fat (although these tend to be healthier fats that your body can more readily use). Choose beans and legumes that do not have salt added; some canned varieties have hidden salt that could push you over the threshold for salt intake.
Fat – Less than 30% of your total calorie intake should be from fats, and fats should be chosen carefully. Avoid saturated fats and choose healthier fats such as monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil, avocado, and nuts. The easiest way to cut out fat is by eliminating processed foods and choosing to boil, broil, or bake foods rather than frying. Many people have found an unexpected sense of reward by ditching the unhealthy takeaway in favor of eating at home and enjoying the process of cooking, and knowing where their food comes from.
Sweets – Sweets should be reduced on the DASH diet. You don’t have to eliminate sugar completely but cutting down is a good idea. Simply avoiding foods with added sugar will make a big difference to your daily intake. Be aware that there is sugar hidden in many of the foods we eat.
Alcohol – Cutting down on how much alcohol you drink has a positive impact on blood pressure. Talk to your health professional if you feel alcohol might be impacting your blood pressure or if you struggle to stick to the daily limits. There is lots of help available in cutting down.
The DASH diet aims to guide people towards heart-healthy blood pressure levels and educate us all about avoiding hidden salt, sugar, and fat in the foods we eat. With a focus on fresh, healthy produce, variety in the fruit and vegetables we eat and making good choices regarding the fats we choose, not only can it impact blood pressure positively, but it can also help with weight loss and nutritional intake.