Eat Your Way to Lower Blood Pressure

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High blood pressure is something many adults face at some point in their lives. While it’s a common condition, long-term (chronic) high blood pressure can lead to other serious health conditions, such as heart disease.

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with high blood pressure, don’t panic. In many cases, healthy lifestyle changes can improve your blood pressure and lower your risk for side effects.

Follow the DASH Eating Plan

A well-balanced, nutritious diet is one way to get you back on track. The DASH Eating Plan (also called the Dash Diet) stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet doesn’t require any special foods, but instead offers a more balanced, nutritious approach to what you eat. It incorporates whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.

DASH Serving Recommendations

The DASH Eating Plan is based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. If you’re aiming to eat fewer calories per day, you may need to adjust these recommended servings:

  • Fats and oils: 2 – 3 servings per day
  • Fruit: 4 – 5 servings per day
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: 2 – 3 servings per day
  • Meats, poultry or fish: 6 or fewer servings per day
  • Nuts, seeds, dry beans and peas: 4 – 5 servings per week
  • Sodium: 2,300mg or less per day; 1,500mg or less can lower blood pressure even more
  • Sweets: 5 or fewer servings per week
  • Vegetables: 4 – 5 servings per day
  • Whole grains: 6 – 8 servings per day

In general, you should also look for foods that are:

  • High in calcium, magnesium, potassium, fiber and protein
  • Low in saturated and trans fats
  • Low in sodium content

Switching to DASH

Because many of the foods in the DASH plan are high in fiber, you may notice some excess bloating or diarrhea as you adjust to the new diet. With this in mind, try transitioning to the DASH diet gradually. For example, add a piece of fruit or a vegetable serving to one or two meals a day.

It’s also a good idea to spread out servings of fruits and vegetables, rather than trying to knock out servings all in one meal.

To reduce meat in your diet, try making plant-based dishes or loading up on your “side” vegetables in a meal, rather than having meat take priority the plate.

If you’re having trouble sticking to DASH, keeping a diary of what you eat for each meal or snack can help. That way, you can see where you may need to make adjustments or have opportunities to replace certain foods with more DASH-friendly bites.

Find Foods With Less Sodium

Reducing salt (sodium) in your diet is one of the most important steps you can take to lower your blood pressure. To help lower the amount of sodium you eat, you can:

  • Avoid frozen dinners and fast foods, like pizza
  • Choose fresh poultry, fish, or lean meat instead of processed proteins
  • Eat fresh or frozen vegetables, or choose “no salt added” canned vegetables
  • Reduce the amount of instant rice or pasta you eat and try cooking rice and pasta without salt
  • Rinse canned food to remove excess sodium
  • Stick to salt-free seasoning blends
  • Try making your own salad dressings rather than buying bottled types

It’s also important to look at food labels when you shop. Check the amount of sodium on the food labels and compare different brands before purchasing.

Use Spice, Not Salt

Another way to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet is to reach for the spice cabinet, rather than the salt shaker. Herbs and spices can add flavor to dishes without the excess sodium.

  • Add cinnamon to some of your favorite snacks or bread
  • Throw in a dash of chili powder or red pepper flakes to spice up soup, salad or roasted vegetables
  • Try using herbs like parsley, oregano, rosemary or sage to add flavor to vegetables, meats and fish

Watch Your Calories

Reducing the amount of calories you consume every day may help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure.

The total number of calories you should eat every day depends on your age, gender and activity level. For example, a 51-year-old woman who’s moderately active should consume 1,800 calories a day, while an active 40-year-old woman should consume around 2,200 calories a day.

Before starting a new diet or making any major lifestyle changes, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Work closely with your primary care providerto develop a health plan that’s right for you.

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