Keeping your blood pressure at a normal level is key to maintaining good health. If you happen to have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, your risk of health complications can increase significantly. There are a number of simple nutritional and lifestyle changes that can help get your blood pressure back into a healthy range. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension -- DASH for short -- eating plan is a set of nutritional guidelines specifically designed for individuals with high blood pressure.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, high blood pressure is defined as blood pressure greater than 140/90. This condition affects one out of every three adult Americans, and another 59 million Americans have prehypertension, which is defined as blood pressure between 120/80 and 140/89. When your blood pressure is too high, your heart has to work harder than it should, and the walls of your arteries can be become damaged. Chronic high blood pressure can eventually lead to serious complications, including stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.
The DASH eating plan has a few key focus points, summed up as a diet low in sodium and saturated fat and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You should also try to consume at least 30 grams of dietary fiber every day. The DASH plan advocates low-fat dairy, including skim or low-fat milk, reduced-fat cottage cheese and low-fat yogurt. Try to consume nuts, such as pecans, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. DASH also recommends legumes, including lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans. In addition, you are allowed, in limited portions, fats and oils, such as light salad dressings, vegetable oils and low-fat mayonnaise.
Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, DASH recommends getting 6 to 8 servings of grains per day, including whole-wheat bread, pita bread, oatmeal, brown rice, unsalted pretzels and grits. Consuming 4 to 5 servings of both fruits and vegetables a day will help you get all of the fiber, potassium and magnesium you need. Have 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy products every day, and no more than 6 servings of lean meat and poultry. You should consume 4 to 5 servings a week of nuts, seeds and legumes, which provide energy, protein, magnesium and fiber. Have 2 to 3 servings of fats and oils a day. Keep added sugars and sweets to a maximum of 5 total servings a week.
Foods to Avoid and Additional Tips
MedlinePlus notes certain foods that you should avoid if you have high blood pressure. Look for products that have the words "partially hydrogenated" on food labels. These products contain trans fats, which can have unhealthy effects on blood pressure and overall health. Limit the baked goods and processed foods that you eat, such as donuts, crackers, cakes and other store-bought snacks. Avoid foods high in saturated fat, which include cheese, whole milk, butter and ice cream. The DASH eating plan also recommends that you consume alcoholic beverages in moderation, and that you get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.