March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Think you can't stop hypertension, or high blood pressure? You might be able to if you follow the DASH diet. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium. By combining DASH with exercise, individuals may be able to reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular risk factors.
Originally implemented as a dietary plan to lower blood pressure, DASH has many advantages for your health, including weight loss. Focusing on whole foods, this heart-healthy plan is high in fiber and low in saturated fats and sugars. It can be a way of eating for the whole family, and may also reduce risk of stroke, heart disease and kidney stones.
Here's a look at the mechanics of the DASH diet and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Get Your Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of potassium which has shown to be effective in lowering blood pressure. Since some studies show that low levels of potassium may be related to hypertension, keeping a diet rich in natural plant foods can provide enough potassium to maintain adequate levels. Additionally, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may support weight loss because these foods are naturally low in fat and high in fiber.
Choose Low-Fat Dairy
Because weight is a factor in developing hypertension, choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy is important as well. Calcium is not only important for bones, but also for blood pressure regulation. However, while dairy foods are rich in calcium, high-fat dairy contains saturated fats which are not good for heart health. Consuming foods high in saturated fats may contribute to excess calories, potential weight gain and increased risk of heart disease.
Unsalted nuts are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, the type which help lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase your good cholesterol (HDL). Rich in antioxidants, nuts contain compounds which may reduce damage to blood vessels. These compounds also keep blood vessels healthy for unrestricted blood flow.
Limit Saturated Fat
A DASH diet is low in saturated fats, sodium and total fat. Studies have shown that a diet low in saturated fats can decrease risk of heart disease and hypertension. Maintaining a low-fat diet and a healthy weight not only decreases the risk for high blood pressure, but also diabetes and heart complications.
Be Active and Limit Alcohol
Weight management, physical activity and limiting alcohol consumption should be included as part of the DASH diet. An optimal body weight is important for good health. Overweight individuals, especially those with excess abdominal fat, are at increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. A healthy body mass index (BMI) range is 18.5 to 24.9. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you determine your BMI and help you with a weight management plan.
Physical activity is also important. It promotes heart health and helps achieve overall fitness so you aren't huffing and puffing climbing a simple set of stairs. You can reduce your blood pressure if you do aerobic exercise regularly — aiming for at least 60 minutes each day, or most days, or 150 minutes per week.
Finally, monitor your alcohol intake. One alcoholic drink is equivalent to either 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. Men should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day and women should consume no more than one drink per day. In addition to aiding in weight management, reducing alcohol consumption may reduce blood pressure.