Following a diet for lowering blood pressure is an effective way to control hypertension for many people. The National Institutes of Health recommends the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. Research over the last decade has shown this diet, which includes lean protein, low-fat dairy, complex carbohydrates and reduced sodium, is a significant element in controlling blood pressure.
Healthy Food Choices
The DASH diet for lowering blood pressure emphasizes lean protein, such as chicken and fish. Dairy products such as low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt are encouraged. Complex carbohydrates make up more than half of total calories consumed, and come mainly from whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The DASH eating plan limits red meat, which is high in saturated fat. It also recommends reducing or limiting processed sugar, such as candy and soda.
Watch Sodium Intake
Two major studies and subsequent research by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) showed that lowering sodium intake in addition to following the other dietary recommendations was critical for obtaining results with a diet to lower blood pressure. Most Americans consume 4,500 mg. of sodium per day. The DASH diet recommends a limit of 2,300 mg. for healthy individuals, and 1,500 mg. for those already experiencing hypertension or prehypertension. Studies by Rutgers University show that sodium affects the ability of blood vessels to dilate and constrict as they pump blood to and from the heart, which raises blood pressure. Sodium also increases fluid volume in the body, which further stresses the cardiovascular system.
Dietary Fat Requirements
Calories from fat constitute 27 percent of daily food intake in the DASH eating plan. However, the type of fat consumed is critical. Mayo Clinic warns against saturated fat and trans-fatty acids. Saturated fat comes from animal products. Trans-fatty acids are found in partially hydrogenated products, and baked and fried food. These fats raise cholesterol. Healthy fats are derived from olive and canola oil, nuts and seeds, and fish, such as salmon. Salmon has an added benefit. It contains omega-3 fatty acids, which lower cholesterol instead of raising it the way saturated fats do.
Make Small Changes
If the DASH eating plan represents significant changes from your present eating habits, start with gradual changes. Focus only on reducing fats, for example, by using less butter and preparing meals with chicken or fish instead of red meat. When these changes have become comfortable, choose a new goal, such as reducing sodium by changing snack choices and buying low-sodium versions of prepared foods. Small changes add up to substantial results over time, and the gradual introduction of new habits makes them easier to incorporate.
One in three Americans are affected by hypertension, according to NHLBI, and even those with normal blood pressure at age 50 stand a 90 percent chance of developing the condition later in life. Making good dietary choices has been shown to reduce your hypertension risk as well as to control an existing condition. A healthy diet is only one element in lowering blood pressure. Equally important is to control weight, stay active and limit alcohol consumption. If your doctor has prescribed medication to control your blood pressure, continue using it as directed.