Manage Your Blood Pressure With the DASH Diet
This low-sodium diet is designed to lower your blood pressure while providing necessary nutrients.
By Kristen Stewart
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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With obesity rates at record highs, it seems like we’re constantly being bombarded with diet options ranging from low-carb to low-fat. But not all diets are just about losing weight. Some, like the DASH Diet, can also lower your blood pressure and improve your health.
“Hypertension boils down to a very simple concept: It is either intake of too much salt or the failure to excrete salt,” says Sean Hashmi, MD, a physician in internal medicine and nephrology at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, Calif. “The DASH Diet plays a very crucial role in decreasing the intake of salt.”
Simply put, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH Diet is a way of eating designed to reduce high blood pressure, and this hypertension diet is supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
How Much Salt Is Too Much?
Most of us know that too much fat and sugar is bad, but not everyone watches salt intake as carefully. In fact, the numbers are shocking. The average American man consumes about 4,200 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day while the average woman ingests about 3,300 mg. As a point of comparison, the National High Blood Pressure Education Program suggests that the limit should be 2,300 mg per day, and the Institute of Medicine (an independent arm of the National Academy of Sciences) recommends no more than 1,500 mg.
DASH Diet Foods
Whole grains, plenty of vegetables and fruits, and lean meats, poultry, and fish are the staples of this hypertension diet. Fat-free or low-fat dairy products and nuts, seeds, and legumes are also emphasized. Fats and oils, along with sweets and added sugars, should be eaten sparingly.
Salt awareness is a key point of the diet. Salt is not just what you might add at the table from your shaker. Both salt and various types of sodium are often found in high amounts in processed foods, so the idea is to eat foods in as natural a state as possible.
In addition to lowering your salt intake with this hypertension diet, it is critical that people with high blood pressure eat foods rich in minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, since these minerals act as electrolytes that counteract the effects of sodium, says Bronwyn Schweigerdt, MS, an Oakland, California-based nutritionist who conducts community seminars for state agencies and is the author ofFree to Eat. “By doing so [the minerals] retain fluid inside the cells, which keeps too much fluid from residing outside the cells, causing high blood pressure.”
Good sources of potassium and magnesium include vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, zucchini, and tomatoes, and fruits like bananas, apricots, apples, oranges, melons, and strawberries. Calcium can be found in various dairy products including milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Is This Low-Sodium Diet Right for You?
“The beauty of the DASH Diet is that it can be used safely and effectively by just about all patients,” says Dr. Hashmi. Patients with kidney disease should consult their physicians first because eating too many high-potassium foods can raise their potassium to dangerous levels, he explains. People with diabetes will need to carefully monitor their blood sugar levels on the DASH Diet. “However, the key behind DASH is moderation, and there shouldn’t be any problems with the great majority of people adopting this,” Hashmi adds.
Ultimately your health and your blood pressure are in your control.
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