House Call Doctor discusses DASH, a diet plan that can help lower your blood pressure naturally, without medical intervention. Could DASH work for you? Find out.
Almost one third of adults in the U.S. are estimated to suffer from high blood pressure (or hypertension), which amounts to over 50 million people. The reason we care so much about this significant health issue is because it is a major risk factor for developing heart disease, which is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. The scary part is that most patients are asymptomatic, that is, they feel completely fine. They can’t tell that their blood pressure is high, until it’s discovered on a routine health exam at the doctor’s office, or on a home blood pressure monitor.
When patients first discover their diagnosis, their first question is usually, “Can’t I treat it without medication, Doc?” Although the answer to that question is a very personal one that depends on the severity of the hypertension and your risk factors for heart disease, there is research that shows how lifestyle changes (including diet and exercise) can help reduce blood pressures. For some patients, this is sufficient and they can avoid medications. But for others it may be a combination of the two. Either way, it’s really important that everyone with hypertension learns how to improve their pressure. And how we do that is exactly what I’ll be discussing in today’s episode.
What Is the DASH Diet?
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and is a well-studied diet plan that has been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure by an average of 8 to 14 points. It also has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
See also: What Should Your Blood Pressure Be?
Here are the main components of the DASH plan:
Fiber: 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. I know for most of us this is a challenge – but shoot for one serving of veggies and one serving of fruit with each meal, and two snacks in between.
Dairy: 2-3 servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy daily. If you drink whole milk products, it’s wise to make the switch to 1% or non-fat versions. Have you ever had non-fat Greek yogurt? It’s absolutely delicious!
Fat: This diet is low in saturated fats and requires a total fat intake of less than 27% of your calories (for an average 2,100 calorie diet). Select nuts and seeds instead and minimize sugar and sweets.
Cholesterol: Cholesterol intake should be 150mg or less (a beef burger has about 150mg and a classic egg-based breakfast sandwich can have more than 300mg).
Whole grains: Carbohydrate intake should be less than 55% of calories, between 6-8 servings, and all whole grains.
Protein: Opt for fish and lean poultry and minimize red meat. Daily servings of protein should be 6 or less.
What Else Can You Do to Reduce Blood Pressure?
Other lifestyle changes, when combined with the DASH diet, can even further improve your blood pressure readings:
Lose weight: Blood pressure improves about 0.5 to 2.0 points per every 4 to 5 pounds of weight lost, on average.
Exercise: Get at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (where you heart is pumping and you actually break a sweat) most days of the week.
Limit alcohol: Drink no more than one glass of red wine for women and no more than two glasses for men with your evening meal each night. Anything more than that is associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension.
Limit salt: Learn to read food labels and keep your sodium intake below 2 grams a day. For people with a diagnosis of hypertension, a low salt diet has been shown to help lower blood pressure, especially if you are “borderline” hypertensive. Keeping your salt intake below 1.5 grams a day has shown even further blood pressure benefits.
Stop smoking: Although it does not increase the risk of hypertension itself, it sure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, even in people without a history of hypertension.
For more detailed information on the DASH diet (and to learn how to tweak the number of servings based on the ideal amount of daily calories for your body), the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has a very informative guide.
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.
Blood Pressure Cuff image from Shutterstock