DASH Diet: Reducing Hypertension through Diet and Lifestyle

Reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN
DASH Diet: Reducing Hypertension through Diet and Lifestyle

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Think you can't stop hypertension, or high blood pressure? You might be able to if you follow a balanced eating pattern, such as 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 health. Focusing on whole foods, this heart-healthy plan is high in fiber and low in saturated fats and added sugars. It can be a way of eating for the whole family, and also may 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 plant foods can provide enough potassium to maintain adequate levels.

Go Nuts

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.

If You Consume Dairy, Choose Low-Fat

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. Non-dairy sources of calcium include soy beans, collard greens and calcium-fortified beverages such as almond milk.

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. Plant foods are a great way to get nutrients, including protein, without too much saturated fat. Beans, lentils and tofu are excellent choices.

Be Active and Limit Alcohol

Physical activity is 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. Reducing alcohol consumption may reduce blood pressure.

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