When you have a chronic health condition, the healthiest way to treat it is by making changes to your lifestyle, like starting regular physical exercise, getting enough sleep, and modifying your diet.
Eating the right type of food goes a long way in successfully managing your diabetes, keeping your cholesterol levels under control, or if you have hypertension, lowering your high blood pressure.
So, what do you need to eat, and how much should you eat, in order to reduce your blood pressure? The DASH diet might be able to help you.
What is the DASH diet?
DASH is an acronym for ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension’, an eating plan specifically designed by the US National Institute of Health (NIH) to prevent or treat hypertension by lowering blood pressure. It emphasises a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat, while limiting salt, red meat, unhealthy trans and saturated fats, sweets, and added sugars.
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which promotes this diet, recommends the following daily and weekly servings for a 2,000 calorie-a-day eating plan :
|Food group||Daily servings|
|Low-fat and non-fat dairy products||2-3|
|Lean meats, poultry, and fish||6 or less|
|Fats and oils||2-3|
|Nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas||4-5|
|Sweets||5 or less|
In addition to the regular DASH diet, where you can consume up to 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon) of sodium a day, there is also a low-salt version that limits your consumption to 1,500 mg (3/4 teaspoon) of sodium per day . The lower sodium version might be ideal for you if your blood pressure is very high.
How and why does the DASH diet work?
The DASH eating plan works because it provides a balanced combination of several nutrients that are known to help reduce blood pressure, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, as well as fibre and protein. It is also naturally low in salt, or sodium, and saturated fats and cholesterols, all of which can raise the body’s blood pressure if their intake is high.
Potassium, magnesium, and calcium are three of the seven essential macrominerals needed by the body. They all help the blood vessels to relax and tighten as required, ensuring healthy blood flow and are crucial in achieving and maintaining a healthy blood pressure .
In addition, potassium helps counter the harmful effects of sodium. Excess sodium in the body leads to increased water retention, which results in elevated blood pressure. So, the higher your sodium intake, the higher your blood pressure will be. Potassium helps maintain a delicate balance .
What foods should you eat to gain the required nutrients?
The good news is that it’s not difficult to find the right foods that provide you with the necessary nutritional requirements. Here are some foods that are rich in:
- Potassium: Bananas, spinach, dates, oranges, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes
- Magnesium: Avocados, cashews, walnuts, almonds, bananas, and oatmeal
- Calcium: Low-fat yoghurt, almonds, calcium-fortified beverages, such as soy milk, broccoli, sesame seeds
- Fibre: Pears, apples, bananas, beetroot, carrot, and lentils. Also, eating whole fruits instead of having fruit juice provides the body with more fibre.
- Protein: Lean varieties of protein, such as fish that are high in essential Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, tuna, or mackerel; low-fat or non-fat yoghurt; lentils; beans; and paneer.
Does the DASH diet have other benefits as well?
The DASH eating plan has many benefits apart from helping reduce and treat hypertension:
- Despite not focusing on or targeting weight loss, the DASH diet removes empty carbs and unnecessary calories from the eating plan; along with portion control, it can result in weight loss.
- Since it is a balanced diet that covers all the necessary nutrients, it is a heart-healthy diet and is good for people who have diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular conditions.
- Due to its good calcium, potassium, and protein content, it may also help prevent or slow down the onset of osteoporosis.
- Being higher in potassium and lower in sodium content, following this diet may help reduce the risk of getting kidney stones, and thus promote kidney health.
Do ensure that you consult your doctor and nutritionist before making any major diet modifications as having some medications and other medical conditions may further add restrictions to your diet. Hence work with your health team to develop the best eating plan that suits your unique nutritional requirements.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. DASH Eating Plan. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan [Accessed 21 June 2019].
- Mayo Clinic. DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456 [Accessed 24 June 2019].
- Harvard Health Publishing. Key minerals to help control blood pressure. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/key-minerals-to-help-control-blood-pressure [Accessed 24 June 2019].
- Blood Pressure UK. Why potassium helps to lower blood pressure. Available from: http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/microsites/salt/Home/Whypotassiumhelps [Accessed 21 June 2019].