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 diet is meant to encourage long-term changes for diet and lifestyle. The DASH eating plan places an emphasis on a diet low in saturated fat, trans fats, dietary cholesterol, and sodium. It is also recommended that you reduce your intake of sugary drinks, sweets, and added sugar in general.
It emphasizes eating foods high in dietary fiber. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day, while men need at least 38 grams per day. This can be done by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
Consuming 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day is a great start to get more fiber in the diet. They also provide potassium and magnesium, which are beneficial to lowering blood pressure, according to a 2008 study published in "The Journal of Clinical Hypertension."
Adding more whole grains into the diet can also contribute to a healthy fiber intake. Brown rice, whole wheat bread, popcorn, and oatmeal are all sources of whole grains.
The DASH diet recommends eating low fat dairy, instead of full fat dairy to cut back on saturated fat. Two to 3 servings of low-fat dairy products every day, such as milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese provides calcium and protein.
Nuts, seeds and legumes, which provide energy, protein, magnesium and fiber are very beneficial to a healthy diet. Legumes, such as lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans, have been shown to reduce blood pressure when eaten daily, according to research published in "Clinical Diabetes."
Lean meats, such as fish or poultry are recommended over red meats. Cook with oils low in saturated fat, such as olive and canola, and limit to 2 to 3 tablespoons a day. Limit eggs yolks to 4 per week and decrease the amount of sweets and added sugar in the diet.
Foods to Avoid and Additional Tips
MedlinePlus notes certain foods 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. Trans fats are found in the baked goods and processed foods, such as donuts, crackers, cakes and other store-bought snacks.
The DASH eating plan also recommends that you consume alcoholic beverages in moderation — at most, one drink per day for women and two for men. Daily physical activity is also recommended — at least 30 minutes each day.
Following an overall healthy eating plan and getting physical activity everyday is the key to controlling and lowering blood pressure.