DASH Eating Plan: Reducing Blood Pressure through Diet and Lifestyle

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, 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 healthy eating pattern, such as the DASH diet. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a style of eating that’s high in fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, poultry and low-fat or fat-free dairy products and is low in foods and beverages with added sugars, red meats and sodium. 

Originally designed as an eating plan to lower blood pressure, DASH has many advantages for health and may help to reduce cardiovascular risk factors. This heart-healthy eating plan, which focuses on whole foods, is higher in nutrients that have been shown to lower blood pressure - dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium and protein - and lower in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium. 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 basics of the DASH eating plan and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Get Your Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of potassium which is important in managing blood pressure. Since some studies show that low intakes of potassium may be related to hypertension, making half your plate fruits and vegetables will help you increase your intake.

Go Nuts

Unsalted nuts are an excellent source of unsaturated fats, the type which have been shown to help lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol when substituted in place of saturated fats. Rich in antioxidants, nuts contain compounds which may reduce damage to blood vessels. These compounds also help keep blood vessels healthy for unrestricted blood flow.

Choose Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy

Calcium is not only important for bones, but also for blood vessels. While dairy foods are rich in calcium, high-fat dairy contains saturated fats which are not good for heart health. Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products in place of full-fat options or calcium-fortified soymilk.

Limit Sodium and Saturated Fat

The DASH eating plan limits sodium to 2,300 mg per day, although additional benefits may be seen in reducing blood pressure for those who limit sodium to 1,500 mg.

Studies also 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 Physically 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. Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises are recommended to help improve blood pressure. Regular physical activity may also help to increase levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol. Aim for at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, along with muscle-strengthening activities 2 or more days per week.

Finally, adults of legal drinking age should monitor their 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 who choose to drink 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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