Drop Blood Pressure with the Help of the DASH diet

A good step toward lowering high blood pressure is with what doctors refer to as the DASH diet. They recommend:

  • Eating more vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy foods
  • Reducing consumption of foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
  • Eating more whole grain products, poultry, fish, and nuts
  • Cutting back on red meat and sweets
  • Eating foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium

The DASH diet, shorthand for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a healthy eating plan. In medical studies, patients who followed the DASH diet dropped their blood pressure in less than two weeks. Another version of this diet, called DASH-Sodium, involves reducing sodium to only 1,500 mg a day, or about 2/3 teaspoon. Studies of patients on the DASH-Sodium plan also lowered their blood pressure significantly.

The DASH diet concentrates on your portion size, eating a good variety of foods and getting the proper nutrients.

Staying with the DASH diet, your blood pressure may drop by eight to 14 points, which can make a serious difference in your health.

The DASH diet is a more healthy way of eating, so it offers health benefits beyond just lowering your blood pressure. This diet may also defend against osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Although the DASH diet is not touted as a weight-loss program, you may well lose unwanted pounds as you eat healthier meals and snacks.

One goal of the DASH diet is reducing your sodium intake, as sodium can seriously increase blood pressure in those who are sensitive to salt's effects. Along with the standard DASH diet, there is a low-sodium version. You may choose the version that meets your needs:

  • Standard DASH diet: Limits you to 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
  • DASH-Sodium diet: Limits you to 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

Both diets work to reduce your sodium intake over what you may see in a more traditional diet, which can equal a hefty 3,500 mg of sodium a day or more. That level far exceeds the recommendation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans of the maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium per day.

Research shows that the DASH-Sodium diet is particularly useful in lowering blood pressure for adults who are middle-aged or beyond, for African-Americans or for those who already have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. If the DASH diet sounds good to you, ask your doctor.

Both versions of the DASH diet include plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. The DASH diet also includes certain fish, poultry and legumes. You may eat red meat, sweets and fats in small amounts. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat.

Here are the recommended servings from for a 2,000-calorie-a-day DASH diet.

Grains: 6 to 8 servings per day
Includes bread, cereal, pasta and rice. A single serving includes a slice of whole-wheat bread, an ounce of dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, pasta or rice. Use whole grains as they are higher in fiber and nutrients. Grains are naturally low in fat, but refrain from slathering them with butter or cream cheese.

Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings per day
Tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, and, many other vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Vegetables are not only side dishes, a nice mix of vegetables served over brown rice or whole-wheat noodles can be a wonderful, healthy meal. Fresh or frozen vegetables are each good choices, although when buying frozen and canned vegetables, check the label for sodium and added salt.

Fruits: 4 to 5 servings per day
Most fruits make an easy and healthy addition to a meal or snack. As with vegetables, they're packed with fiber, potassium and magnesium and are usually low in fat. Leave on edible peels whenever possible. The peels of apples, pears and most fruits with pits contain fiber and other healthy nutrients. Remember that citrus fruits and juice, such as grapefruit, can interact with certain medications, so check with your doctor or pharmacist to be safe.

Dairy: 2 to 3 servings per day
Milk, cheese and other dairy products are great sources of vitamin D, calcium, and protein. Be sure that you choose dairy products that are low-fat or fat-free. Keep your portions of regular and even fat-free cheeses small because they tend to be high in sodium.

Lean meat, poultry and fish: 6 or fewer servings per day
Meat can be a great of protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. Don't make them as large a part of your diet because of the cholesterol. Try cutting back your meat portions by one-third or one-half and load up the veggies instead. Eat fish like salmon, herring and tuna, which are better for your heart than some of the oilier fishes. These fish are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower your cholesterol.

Fats and oils: 2 to 3 servings per day
Fat actually helps your body to absorb vitamins and helps your body's immune system. However, excess fat increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other maladies. Avoid trans fat, commonly found in processed foods. Be sure to read the food labels on margarine and salad dressing and choose the ones that are lowest in saturated fat and without trans fat.

Sweets: 5 or fewer per week
You don't need to give up sweets completely while on the DASH diet, just be careful with them. When you do eat sweets, choose fat-free or low-fat items, like sorbets, jelly beans, hard candy, or low-fat cookies. You may swap a regular cola for a diet cola, but a better choice would be nutritious beverage such as low-fat milk or even plain water.

Drinking excessive alcohol may increase your blood pressure. The DASH diet recommends that men keep alcohol to two drinks a day or less and for women, one drink or less.

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