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High Blood Pressure and the DASH Diet

One step to lower high blood pressure: Incorporate the DASH diet into your lifestyle. Doctors recommend:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods
  • Cut back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats
  • Eat more whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts
  • Eat less red meat (especially processed meats) and sweets
  • Eat foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium

The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is an example of such an eating plan. In research studies, patients who were on the DASH diet lowered their blood pressure within two weeks. Another diet -- DASH-Sodium -- calls for cutting back sodium (salt) to 1,500 mg a day (about 2/3 teaspoon). Studies of people on the DASH-Sodium plan significantly lowered their blood pressure as well.

Is Your Blood Pressure in Check?

Starting the DASH Diet

The DASH diet calls for a certain number of servings daily from various food groups. The number of servings you require may vary, depending on your caloric need. When beginning the diet, start slowly and make gradual changes. Consider adopting a diet plan that allows 2,400 mg of salt per day (about 1 teaspoon). Then, once your body has adjusted to the diet, further lower your salt intake to 1,500 mg per day (about 2/3 teaspoon). These amounts include all salt eaten, including salt in food products as well as in what you cook with or add at the table.

Here are some tips to get you started on the DASH diet:

  • Add a serving of vegetables at lunch and at dinner.
  • Add a serving of fruit to your meals or as a snack. Canned and dried fruits are easy to use, but make sure there is no added sugar.
  • Use only half your typical serving of butter, margarine, or salad dressing, and use low-fat or fat-free condiments.
  • Drink low-fat or skim dairy products any time you would normally use full fat or cream.
  • Limit meat to 6 ounces a day. Try eating some vegetarian meals.
  • Add more vegetables and dry beans to your diet.
  • Instead of typical snacks (chips, etc.), eat unsalted pretzels or nuts, raisins, low-fat and fat-free yogurt, frozen yogurt, unsalted plain popcorn with no butter, and raw vegetables.
  • Read food labels carefully to choose products that are lower in sodium.

Staying on the DASH Diet

These are the suggested serving amounts for food groups in the DASH diet:

Grains: 7-8 daily servings

Vegetables: 4-5 daily servings

Fruits: 4-5 daily servings

Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: 2-3 daily servings

Meat, poultry, and fish: 2 or less daily servings

Nuts, seeds, and dry beans: 4-5 servings per week

Fats and oils: 2-3 daily servings

Sweets: try to limit to less than 5 servings per week

How Much Is a Serving?

When you're trying to follow a healthy eating plan, it may help to know how much of a certain kind of food is considered a "serving." Here are some examples:

SERVING SIZES
1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
1 slice bread
1 cup raw vegetables or fruit
1/2 cup cooked vegetables or fruit
8 ounces of milk
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 ounces cooked meat
3 ounces tofu

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 12, 2014
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