By starting a few new food habits, including counting calories and watching portion sizes, you may be able to lower your blood pressure and reduce the medications you need to control high blood pressure. Here's how.
Track What You Eat
Some people are not aware of how many calories they eat and drink each day. They may underestimate how much they eat and wonder why they can’t lose weight.
Writing down the foods you eat, including the portion sizes, can let you see the truth about your food intake. You can then start cutting back -- reducing calories and portions -- to lose weight and manage your blood pressure.
Be aware, too, of alcohol intake. Alcohol can increase your blood pressure, as well.
Avoid Salt (Sodium)
A high-sodium diet increases blood pressure in many people. In fact, the less sodium you eat, the better blood pressure control you might have.
To lower the sodium in your diet, try these suggestions:
- Use a food diary to keep track of the salt in the foods you eat.
- Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams (about 1 teaspoon of salt) each day. Ask your doctor if you should go lower, to 1,500 milligrams.
- Read the nutritional facts label on every food package.
- Select foods that have 5% or less of the “Daily Value” of sodium.
- Avoid foods that have 20% or more Daily Value of sodium.
- Avoid canned foods, processed foods, lunch meats, and fast foods.
- Use salt-free seasonings.
Know What to Eat
Potassium, magnesium, and fiber, on the other hand, may help control blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium, magnesium, and fiber, and they’re low in sodium. Stick to whole fruits and veggies. Juice is less helpful, because the fiber is removed. Also, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean meats, and poultry are good sources of magnesium.
To increase the amounts of natural potassium, magnesium, and fiber you take in, select from the following:
- beet greens
- green beans
- green peas
- lima beans
- sweet potatoes
- yogurt (fat-free)
What Is the DASH Diet?
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is an eating plan rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy. These foods are high in key nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber, and protein.
To start the DASH diet, follow these recommendations (based on 2,000 calories a day):
- Grains: 7-8 daily servings (serving sizes: 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta, 1 ounce dry cereal)
- Vegetables: 4-5 daily servings (1 cup raw leafy greens, 1/2 cup cooked vegetable)
- Fruits: 4-5 daily servings (1 medium fruit, 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit, 6 ounces fruit juice)
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: 2-3 daily servings (8 ounces milk, 1 cup yogurt, 1.5 ounces cheese)
- Lean meat, poultry, and fish: 2 or fewer servings a day (3 ounces cooked meat, poultry, or fish)
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4-5 servings per week (1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons seeds, 1/2 cup cooked dry beans or peas)
- Fats and oils: 2-3 daily servings (1 teaspoon vegetable oil or soft margarine, 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons light salad dressing)
- Sweets: less than 5 servings per week. (1 tablespoon sugar, jelly, or jam)
Ask your doctor or a dietitian to help you start the DASH diet. They can tell you how many calories you need each day to maintain or get to a healthy weight. And then they can help you plan meals with foods you enjoy that meet the DASH guidelines.