By Vicki Haywood Doe PhD, ACSM-EP-C, MES
One of the best healthy eating diets and is recommended by the American Heart Association, the National Blood Lung and Heart Institute and the National Institutes of Health to follow is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. It is one of the most well-researched diet plans and has been proven to help control/ prevent hypertension (high blood pressure) or pre-hypertension.
Research studies have shown that those individuals that follow this diet and the DASH-sodium (reduce salt to 1,500mg/day- about 2/3 tsp.) will have lower systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP).
The DASH diet can be used for preventing/controlling other chronic diseases as well. It has been proven to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and is associated with lower risk of different types of cancers, heart disease, stroke, to slow the progression of kidney disease, and to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
This diet is recommended by health experts, dietitians and physicians, because it has been proven to improve overall health, has a healthy balance of whole nutrient-dense foods, and if followed consistently, it actually works!! The DASH diet used in the combination with an exercise program can help in healthy weight loss as well.
The overall recommendation for hypertensive adults is to adopt the DASH eating plan. Here are two examples of general guidelines for the number of servings from various food groups.
DASH Eating Plan-*based on 2,000 calories per day
Grains (whole grains recommended)– 6-8 daily servings; major sources of energy and fiber
Vegetables – 4-5 daily servings; rich sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber
Fruits– 4-5 daily servings; important sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber
Fat-free or low-fat milk, milk products– 2-3 daily servings; major sources of calcium and protein
Lean meats, poultry, and fish– 3 oz to 6 oz- per day; or 6 or less- 1 oz. servings per day; rich sources of protein and magnesium
Nuts, seeds, and dry beans– 4-5 servings per week; rich sources of energy, magnesium, potassium, protein, and fiber
Fats and oils- 2-3 daily servings; 27 percent of calories as fat, including fat in or added to foods
Sweets and added sugars-less than 5 servings per week; sweets should be low in fat
DASH Eating Plan-*based on 1,600 calories per day
Grains (whole grains recommended)– 6 daily servings
Vegetables– 3-4 daily servings
Fruits- 4 daily servings
Fat-free or low-fat milk, milk products– 2-3 daily servings
Lean meats, poultry, and fish– 3 or less- 1 oz. daily servings
Nuts, seeds, legumes– 3 per servings per week
Fat and oils– 2 daily servings
Sweets and added sugars– zero servings
Recommended Action Plan- How to Start
Knowing how to eat healthy is one thing but following a healthy eating plan is another. Here are some proven recommendations to help you get started.
Start a food log. Record what you eat and how much
Add a serving of vegetable with your meal at lunch and at dinner or have as a snack. Pack celery sticks, carrot sticks, and cherry tomatoes to munch on.
Eat healthy fats such as nuts, and seeds as a snack. Raisins, low-fat, fat-free yogurt, unsalted plain popcorn are also good examples of snacks that are not the typical high- sodium snacks (chips, pretzels).
Add a serving of fruit with your meal or have as a snack. Use whole- food fresh apples, orange cuties, strawberries, and watermelon. Use canned and dried fruits that have no added sugar.
Use low-fat or fat-free condiments. Try low-fat Greek yogurt as a substitute for certain condiments.
Limit meat to 6 ounces a day. Try eating more vegetarian meals. Have at least a day per week in which you don’t eat meat.
Read food labels carefully to choose products that are low in sodium, sugar and in fat. Stay away from processed foods they tend to be high in sodium, sugar and fat.
Eat smaller portions. Cut back on servings
Stay away from sweetened beverages. Drink water instead, or homemade flavored water with various fruit in it.
To get optimal results, add in daily physical activity at least 30 minutes a day.
The DASH eating plan is a healthy alternative for reducing blood pressure and it helps with your weight-loss goals as well. Most importantly, the DASH eating plan is a sensible diet that you can realistically follow for the rest of your life. I encourage you to embrace this way of eating so that you may start receiving the amazing benefits!!
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Your guide to lowering your Blood Pressure with DASH-http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Lowering your Blood Pressure with DASH
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What is the DASH Eating plan?
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2006, p.10
Sacks, F.M, Svetkey, L.P, Vollmer, W.M., et al. 2001. Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. DASH-Sodium Collaborative Research Group. New England Journal of Medicine 344:3-10