High blood pressure, technically known as hypertension, is literally a rising problem for at least one in four American adults. More importantly, high blood pressure tends to develop with advancing age. For this reason, the condition exists, to varying degrees, in approximately half of all Americans age 60 and older.
Hypertension is not an easy disease to manage, but one approach that may help is the DASH eating plan.
"You can really sprint your way to lower blood pressure with the DASH plan: Measurable results start showing within two weeks."
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—a diet plan formulated by scientists at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) that has been proven to reduce blood pressure. And beyond those effects, the immense benefits of DASH on overall health make it a plan the whole family can follow. Of course, before starting this or any other special diet, talk to your doctor to see if it’s right for you. And keep in mind that as good as the DASH diet is, it is not a substitute for your high blood pressure medication; keep taking all medicine prescribed by your doctor.
DASH: Get With The Program
The DASH diet is low in fat content (total fat, saturated fat, and especially trans fat), in cholesterol and salt and rich in fruits, vegetables and fat-free dairy products. What’s more, you can really sprint your way to lower blood pressure with the DASH plan: measurable results start showing within two weeks.
The DASH diet provides about 2,000 calories a day; this is still substantial, so DASH is not a weight-loss diet. The real target is to reduce salt (sodium) consumption because sodium plays a critical role in high blood pressure. If some weight loss is needed, talk to your doctor about how to adapt the DASH diet.
DASH: Food Groups And Servings
Build your DASH diet from these foods and portion sizes:
|Food Type||Daily Servings||Typical Serving Size|
|Whole grain foods||7 to 8||1 slice whole wheat bread; 1/2 cup cooked pasta or cereal|
|Vegetables||4 to 5||1 cup raw leafy vegetable; 6 ounces vegetable juice|
|Fruits||4 to 5||6 ounces fruit juice; 1 medium fruit; 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit|
|Low-fat/fat-free dairy foods||2 to 3||8 ounces skim or low-fat milk; 1 cup yogurt; 1-1/2 ounces cheese|
|Meats, poultry and fish||less than 2||3 ounces lean meat|
|Fats and oils||2 to 3||1 tsp soft margarine or vegetable oil; 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise|
|Nuts, seeds and dry beans||4 to 5 per week||1/3 cup nuts; 1/2 cup cooked dry beans; 2 tablespoons seeds|
|Sweets||5 per week||1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam; 1/2 oz jelly beans|
DASH: How To Transition To The New Diet
As much as possible, consume fresh foods and avoid processed foods. Most salt intake comes from the sodium added to packaged and processed foods. For example, one cup of packaged rice pilaf contains 600 milligrams of sodium, which is already 25 percent of the recommended daily allowance for the average person. Instead of using salt when cooking food, try herbs and spices to add flavor.
"The real target is to reduce salt (sodium) consumption because sodium plays a critical role in blood pressure."
The DASH plan’s daily amounts of whole grains, vegetables and fruits may be more than your usual intake. A sudden change to a high-fiber content could cause initial reactions like diarrhea or bloating. To avoid this, make the change to the increased servings gradual, not all at once.
Try these other tips when shifting to the DASH eating plan:
- Compare the “Percent Daily Value” amounts on the food labels of competing products to make your selections; choose products with lowest contents of sodium, cholesterol and fat.
- Buy fresh or frozen vegetables; if you use canned vegetables, pick those with no salt added.
- Enjoy a variety of fruit (fresh, frozen or dried) to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- To work up to eight servings a day of both fruits and vegetables, try having two servings at every meal and have them for snacks.
To get more detailed information about the DASH eating plan, visit the National Institutes of Health website at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.