The DASH Diet: A Low-Fat Low-Sodium Diet Proven to Lower Blood Pressure

The DASH Diet: A Low-Fat Low-Sodium Diet Proven to Lower Blood Pressure

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH for short, is a diet plan recommended to patients who have high blood pressure or those who are susceptible to the condition through genetics. The National Institutes of Health sponsors the plan, which goes beyond the traditional approach of simply avoiding sodium (salt). The key nutritional messages are to increase whole grain, fruit and vegetable intake, and to decrease meat products, full fat dairy foods, and foods high in sugar and salt.

Increase Whole Grain, Fruit and Vegetable Intake

Whole grain products are high in both fiber and magnesium. Getting enough fiber in the diet is important for the removal of cholesterol from the bloodstream. A goal of 25-30 grams a day is recommended. Magnesium is not often listed on food labels, but it is a key nutrient in lowering blood pressure by keeping the heart rhythm steady and providing a mechanism to allow the heart to relax between bouts of pumping blood. The daily recommended intake is 500 milligrams. One serving of whole grains provides approximately 40-55 milligrams of magnesium, depending upon the food source.

If it is too difficult to abruptly change to whole grain products, try replacing a portion of white rice or pasta with brown rice or a whole-wheat noodle and eat them together. As the taste becomes more natural, increase the whole grain portion and decrease the white. In recipes that call for white flour, substitute ¼ to ½ with a whole wheat flour – the taste will not be compromised, and it is an easy way to incorporate more whole grains into the diet. In a hurry? More quick breakfast foods are now being offered that contain whole grains, such as cold cereals, cereal bars and toaster pastries, instant oatmeal, pancakes and waffles.

The DASH diet encourages an intake of at least 4-5 fruits each day plus 4-5 vegetables, considerably more than the average American diet of 1 fruit and 2 vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain fiber and antioxidants, and many are good sources of potassium, which is a key nutrient for proper fluid balance in the body. The recommended potassium intake for the DASH diet is 4700 mg per day. High potassium foods include potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, spinach, soybeans, lentils, and milk products.

Switch to Low Fat or Nonfat Dairy Products

Calcium not only keeps bones strong, but is also a key nutrient for a healthy heart. Calcium is another nutrient that helps the heart stay regulated, and supports healthy blood vessel contraction and expansion to keep blood moving through the body easily.

Skim and 1% milk have the same amount of calcium per glass as whole milk. Try gradually decreasing the full-fat dairy products in your diet and replacing them with low- and non-fat versions. The goal for daily calcium intake for most adults is around 1200 milligrams. If milk products increase gastric distress (ie: lactose intolerance), many brands of milk substitutes are available that are fortified with calcium, such as Lactaid, soy milk, and rice milk.

Limit Meat Intake

Protein is a key nutrient for a healthy body, but the average American often eats more than is needed on a daily basis. Animal products contain cholesterol and saturated fat. Having too much of these nutrients in the bloodstream further complicates blood pressure by making the vessel wall more narrow. Dried beans are excellent sources of low-fat protein and also contain magnesium and potassium.

Try serving the family a vegetarian meal at least one to two times per week to reduce meat intake and increase the consumption of vegetables. If avoiding meat is not desirable, choose leaner cuts and smaller portions. The appropriate portion of meat is 3 ounces per meal, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

Avoiding Sodium and Sugar

The average American consumes around 4000-6000 milligrams of sodium per day. High sodium intake leads the body to retain fluid, which causes increased pressure on the arteries and complicating high blood pressure. According to the Food and Nutrition Board, the recommended intake of sodium for adults is less than 2400 milligrams.

Only a small amount of our sodium intake actually comes from the salt shaker. High-sodium foods are often the ones that are highly processed, canned, or cured. To decrease sodium intake, choose foods more often that are fresh and minimally packaged. Frozen vegetables are acceptable substitutes to fresh products, particularly when the food is out of season, because they are packaged in a way that does not require the addition of sodium as a preservative. Fast foods and restaurant meals are a major source of sodium for many people; cooking at home can allow the control of the amount of sodium in the diet.

Sugar usually contributes to high blood pressure through excess calorie intake and obesity, but also causes water and sodium retention in the body. Maintaining a healthy diet will reduce your sugar cravings by leveling off the increase of insulin into the blood and improving insulin resistance in the cells. To cut sugar in the diet, try a fruit dessert instead of a sugary treat. Also try the wide variety of sugar substitutes, both artificial and natural, to find one that satisfies the sugar need, but without added calories.

Categories: Diet, Health, Weight Loss