Uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the greatest risk factors for serious health complications. When your blood pressure is too high — meaning the blood exerts too much force on the walls of the arteries as it’s pumped through your heart — it can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney disease, cognitive decline, damage to your eyes, sexual dysfunction, bone loss, and sleep disturbances. Ideally, blood pressure should be 120/80 or less, but more than a third of all adults have higher readings. And the higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk for complications.
The good news is that for most people, blood pressure can be controlled. The most common treatments are multifaceted, and include prescription blood pressure medication from Canada Drug Pharmacy and lifestyle changes.
One of those lifestyle changes is diet. Not only does losing weight help keep blood pressure in check, but certain foods can have a significant impact on blood pressure readings. While a wide array of diet plans (including fad diets) claim to help people shed pounds and get heathy, most doctors agree that the best diet option for those who want to lower their blood pressure readings is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet.
While the DASH diet was developed to fight hypertension, or high blood pressure, it’s actually been endorsed by a number of agencies and advocacy groups as the best overall diet for health as well as for the management of conditions such as diabetes. With an emphasis on plant-based foods rich in nutrients known to reduce blood pressure (including magnesium and potassium) and limiting sodium, DASH can lower blood pressure by as much as 12 points, or a full “stage” of blood pressure. When combined with blood pressure medication, DASH might even take blood pressure levels from a dangerous Stage 2 (160/100 or higher) to a pre-hypertensive or lower stage. DASH isn’t meant as a weight loss diet, but most people who follow the plan do lose weight, thanks to new habits that encouraging snacking on low calorie, healthy produce, and limit processed, salty, and sugary high-calorie foods.
Even better news is that the DASH diet isn’t overly restrictive or reliant on calorie counting. It focuses on portion control and adding healthy foods, and doesn’t completely eliminate fats or “treats.” The major restriction is to keep sodium under 2,300 milligrams per day (1,200 for the low sodium version) and calories under 2,000 per day, which is usually quite simple given the emphasis on fruits and vegetables.
DASH Diet Breakdown
So what does a day look like on the DASH diet? The program is broken down into food categories, with a recommended number of servings in each category per day. This usually includes:
- 6-8 servings of grains. Grains include rice, pasta, and bread products. Serving vary; one slice of bread, half a cup of cooked pasta or rice, or an ounce of cereal is considered a serving. Whole grains like brown rice or whole wheat bread are preferred over heavily processed white rice or flour products.
- 4-5 servings of vegetables. Look for fiber rich veggies that are rich in potassium and magnesium, such as dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes. A serving is half a cup, or one cup of leafy greens.
- 4-5 servings of fruit.Again, fiber rich, potassium, and magnesium-loaded choices are best. Fruits like apples and pears, which you can eat with the skin on, are a good choice because of the extra fiber. A serving is one medium piece, a half a cup of fresh or frozen fruit, or in a pinch, four ounces of sugar-free, 100 percent juice.
- 2-3 servings of dairy.Low fat or fat free choices are best, but try to avoid relying too heavily on cheese, as it’s generally high in sodium. Milk or yogurt is often a good choice. A serving is one cup of milk or yogurt, or one and a half ounces of cheese.
- 6 or fewer servings of meat or fish. A serving of meat is one ounce, so the 16-ounce porterhouse is out. Choose poultry, fish, or lean cuts of red meat or pork to get your daily allowance.
- 2-3 servings of fat and oils. Aim for fewer than 27 percent of your daily calorie intake to come from monounsaturated fats; remember that your body needs some fat to absorb minerals and support immune function. A serving of fat includes 2 tablespoons of prepared salad dressing, a teaspoon of margarine, or 1 tablespoon of oil.
The DASH diet also makes allowances for nuts, seeds, and legumes as well as sweets. Sweets should be limited to fewer than five small servings per week, and should include limited amounts of added sugar. Beans and nuts should be limited to four or five half or one-third cups servings per week; a serving of seeds is about two tablespoons. Alcohol isn’t forbidden on this plan, but should be limited to two or fewer daily drinks for men, or one or less per day for women.
The DASH diet is comparatively simple to follow, and can have major benefits for your heart and overall health. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about this plan and whether it would be a good choice for you.