Healthy eating, combined with lifestyle changes that include exercise and good health habits can help control high blood pressure. There are different diets designed to reduce weight and improve risks for chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, but the DASH diet is the best diet for high blood pressure.
DASH for High Blood Pressure
The National Institutes of health recommends the DASH diet for high blood pressure. DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a lifelong strategy that aims to prevent or treat hypertension (high blood pressure). The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) compared different high blood pressure diets, and based on its research, found that DASH is a flexible and balanced plan which can help reduce blood pressure within a few weeks. When followed for a long period, blood pressure can drop significantly so as to reduce one’s risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, which are associated with high blood pressure.
While other types of high blood pressure diets focus on weight reduction, DASH is not a weight loss program. However, as a form of healthy eating program it can lead to a loss of unwanted weight as well as other health benefits.
DASH Eating Plan
The DASH diet prevents and treats high blood pressure by encouraging people to reduce sodium (salt) consumption while eating a variety of nutrients that help reduce blood pressure. Too much salt in the diet leads to water retention and an increase in blood pressure, and just by reducing one’s intake, one can improve his vascular health.
To cut back on salt intake, one must avoid eating junk food, processed food and canned goods which are usually laden with salt. When preparing meals, one can substitute other sodium-free spices for salt. When buying prepared foods, it is recommended to look at the labels for salt content and buy “low-salt” or “sodium-free” products.
Aside from reducing salt intake one is encouraged to increase the consumption of other nutrients that can lower blood pressure, such as calcium, potassium and magnesium, which are found in a variety of foods. The Dash eating plan focuses on eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grain, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, seeds, beans, and nuts. Foods that are low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat are also encouraged. Red meats, sugary beverages and other sweets must be consumed in minimal amounts.
The DASH diet also recommends limiting alcohol intake to two drinks (or less) per day in men and one or less for women. This is because drinking too much alcohol is associated with an increased risk for high blood pressure as well as other diseases. Caffeine consumption is not restricted, although caffeine may increase blood pressure temporarily.
The standard DASH diet recommends the consumption of up to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (equivalent to about one teaspoon of salt). For people who already have high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease a lower sodium diet for high blood pressure is recommended, where one may consume only up to 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day (equivalent to 2/3 teaspoon of salt).