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Eating for better blood pressure

» DASH does it

» A win-win proposition

» Gradual change

» Important note

A sample plan

Use this 2,000-calorie-a-day plan as a DASH guide.

Food groupDaily servingServing sizes
Grains7–81 slice bread
  ½ cup cereal, rice or pasta
Vegetables4–51 cup raw leafy vegetables
  ½ cup cooked vegetables
  6 oz. vegetable juice
Fruits4–51 medium fruit
  ¼ cup dried fruit
  6 oz. fruit juice
  ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit
Low-fat or nonfat dairy foods2–38 oz. skim milk or 1% milk
  1 cup nonfat or low-fat yogurt
  1½ oz. low-fat cheese
Meats, fish and poultry2 or less3 oz. lean meat, poultry or fish
Nuts, seeds and legumes4–5 a week1½ oz. or ⅓ cup nuts
 2 T. seeds½ cup cooked legumes

Don’t pass the salt!

Looking for another easy way to control your blood pressure? Cut back on salt. In a national study called TONE, Trial of Nonpharmacologic Interventions in the Elderly, researchers found that sodium reduction and weight loss (in overweight people) decreased the need for medication in patients with high blood pressure by about 40 percent.

In addition, studies show you can reduce your risk of ever developing hypertension—by as much as 20 percent—if you simply limit your salt intake. So instead of using salt to flavor foods, try using a salt substitute or add some pizzazz to your dishes with other spices like garlic, rosemary and pepper.

If you have hypertension, your healthcare provider probably has recommended that you reach a healthy weight, exercise, limit your alcohol intake and cut the salt. You may even be taking medication. Now experts say that making a few dietary changes may be one of the most effective strategies of all.

DASH does it

The latest hope for people with high blood pressure is as close as the friendly neighborhood grocery store. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products can lower blood pressure significantly, according to a National Institutes of Health study called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).

For eight weeks, 459 people—fewer than a third already had hypertension, and the rest had normal or high-normal blood pressure—followed one of three diets:

  • a control diet that packed the fat and cholesterol of a typical American diet and below-average levels of potassium, magnesium and calcium.
  • a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
  • a combination diet low in fat and cholesterol but rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. This program was high in fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

The combination diet conferred the maximum benefit, lowering high blood pressure as much as medication. Within a matter of days, the diet resulted in an average 11-point decline in systolic pressure (the top number) and a 5.5-point decline in diastolic pressure (the bottom number) in people with hypertension.

A win-win proposition

To add DASH to your diet, eat eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables and two to three servings of low-fat dairy foods a day. You’ll benefit even if you don’t have hypertension. Consider that following DASH can prevent pressure from creeping up and guard against diabetes, osteoporosis and some forms of cancer.

Gradual change

These tips can help you ease into DASH:

  • If you now eat one or two servings of vegetables a day, add another serving—a 6-ounce glass of vegetable juice or ½ cup of cooked veggies—at lunch or dinner.
  • Halve the amount of butter or margarine you use.
  • Drink a cup of skim milk with lunch or dinner.
  • Limit your consumption of fatty meats.
  • Eat two or more meatless meals each week, featuring rice, pasta and beans.
  • Snack on dried fruits, nonfat yogurt, plain popcorn and raw vegetables.

Important note

If you’re taking medication to control hypertension, don’t just stop taking your medicine and start the diet. Discuss DASH with your healthcare provider first.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media