Diet for High Blood Pressure: the DASH Guideline
The CDC reports that every day, 1,300 Americans die of high blood pressure or related illnesses. In 1992, The National Institue of Health funded research on what kind of diet can help people lower their high blood pressure, and the DASH eating plan was tested to effectively reduce blood pressure by multiple studies.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. By following the DASH eating plan alone, without any changes to one’s lifestyle, participants were found to have a 6-11 mmHg decrease in systolic blood pressure. Participants also experienced a reduced amount of LDL cholesterol.
DASH is an eating plan that gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of what you can eat, as long as you follow some basic guidelines.
The general guidelines of the DASH is
- Limit sodium intake to under 2,300 mg, ideally 1,500 mg
- Limit saturated and trans fat
- Limit sugar
- Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- For protein, choose lean meats, poultry, and fish
- For dairy, choose low-fat or fat-free products
- Eat lots of fiber, protein, and micronutrients such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc.
Although DASH gives you a lot of choices in what you can eat, your diet should still be balanced. In other words, you need to eat the right portion sizes of each food group throughout the day.
Daily servings of each food group
This following recommendation on daily serving is for a 2,000-calorie a day diet.
- Grains: 6-8 servings (whole grains preferred)
- Meat, poultry, and fish: 6 or fewer servings (lean meats preferred)
- Vegetables: 4-5 servings (buy fresh to avoid added sodium)
- Fruits: 4-5 servings (buy fresh to avoid added sodium and sugar)
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy: 2-3 servings (watch the amount of sugar since low-fat/fat-free dairy can have a lot of added sugar)
- Fats and oils: 2-3 servings (choose healthy sources of fat)
- Salt: less than 2,300 mg (ideally 1,500 mg)
If you don’t know what one serving means for each food group, here’s a handy guide that can help you understand.
How to get started on DASH?
If your diet right now is very different than what DASH recommends, you can start slow. If you’re the type of person who snacks throughout the day, you can switch up your snacks for healthier versions.
If you like savory snacks, such as potato chips, popcorn, crackers, swap the regular ones for the reduced-sodium or low-sodium ones and choose whole-grain crackers over regular crackers. To go a step further, you can switch it up completely and snack on nuts (preferably low-sodium nuts), vegetable sticks with low-sodium dippings, or salads with low-sodium dressings.
If you like sweet snacks, fruits are the way to go. Swap cookies, doughnuts, and cakes for fresh apples, oranges, strawberries, and grapes. You may need to be careful with what kinds of fruit to eat if you have diabetes, but otherwise, just switching from desserts to fresh fruits is a big positive step.
If you have trouble eating the recommended amount of vegetables and fruits, you can blend them and drink them. The most important thing is to try as best as you can and don’t get discouraged if you have setbacks.
If you want to take extra steps to combat high blood pressure, NIH recommends that you take up 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise daily. If you have hypertension, it is important for you to frequently check and keep track of your blood pressure.
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