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The DASH Diet for Blood Pressure Management

Taking Control: Nutrition Tips to Manage Hypertension and Boost Heart Health.

Melissa Finley
Melissa Finley Editorial Content Manager

There is a health concern impacting half of the adult population in America¹. It’s hypertension, known also as high blood pressure.

“This is a staggering statistic,” says Alison Acerra, MS, RDN, nutritionist and MedShadow Medical Advisory Board Member. “What may be worse is that many people have high blood pressure and aren’t aware of it.”

It’s estimated that about 20% of people with hypertension do not know they have it².  And of those who are aware of their high blood pressure, approximately 24% do not have it under control. This means they either don’t receive treatment or their treatment is not effectively managing their blood pressure.

Acerra offers some professional tips on “how we can build a solid nutrition plan that can help us maintain healthy blood pressure levels.”

“Hypertension can easily go unnoticed,” says Acerra. “It is sometimes referred to as a ‘silent killer’ because unlike other chronic health conditions, we don’t necessarily ‘feel’ when our blood pressure rises. This is why it’s so important to know your numbers and make sure you see your primary health care practitioner for routine medical check ups.”

While there is a genetic component to hypertension³, blood pressure levels are closely associated with our lifestyle practices.  

“Eating a processed foods rich diet, high in salt sugar and fat, maintaining a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and alcohol in excess are all associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure,” says Acerra. “Alternatively, the inverse is true.  Maintaining an active lifestyle, a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol and eating whole, minimally processed foods are also closely linked with healthy blood pressure levels.”

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH Diet, is a well-studied eating approach proven to be effective in reducing blood pressure.  In fact, studies⁴ have shown that following the DASH diet can lower blood pressure by around 11.2/4.5 mmHg, which Acerra says “makes it an excellent nutrition strategy in tackling stage 1 hypertension.”

What Is the DASH Diet?

“Overall, this approach recommends loading up on a variety of fresh foods – fresh veggies, fruits, low-fat dairy, whole grains, chicken, fish, and nuts,” explains Acerra. “These foods are packed with potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber, while keeping the saturated fat, refined sugars, and sodium levels in check.”

1. Reduce Sodium Intake

Acerra says that one of the first focal points of the DASH Diet includes sodium intake. 

“The DASH diet recommends keeping your sodium intakes under 2,300 mg a day, especially if you have high blood pressure,” she says. “Eliminating many canned, packaged, and processed foods is your best bet to limit your sodium intakes.”

2. Add More Potassium

While taking sodium levels down, Acerra says that adding in MORE potassium is also key.

“Potassium works at a cellular level to counteract the effects of sodium and help your blood vessels relax,” she says. “Making sure you’re including potassium-rich foods is a big deal.”

Acerra recommends foods such as apricots, lentils, squash, kidney beans, and spinach, potatoes with the skin, bananas, avocados and deep green leafy vegetables to up your potassium intake.

3. Get In That Fiber

“You want to really focus on fiber,” says Acerra. “Dietary fiber is well associated with heart health and healthy blood pressure due to its cholesterol-lowering benefits, an ability to promote healthy weight, and it can reduce inflammation.”

Studies have shown⁵ the benefits of fiber in your diet to also lower blood pressure.

4. Minimize Saturated Fat Intake

Not all fats are “bad,” warns Acerra. Your body needs particular fats to help it function.

“You want to focus in on healthy proteins like chicken, fish, nuts and seeds, and avoid high fat and processed meats to keep saturated fat levels low,” she says 

5. Limit Processed Foods, Sugar

Those on a DASH Diet, or even simply looking for healthier eating habits, should reduce their consumption of processed foods, according to Acerra.

“Watch for those processed foods high in added sugars,” she says. “These can increase inflammation which can drive high blood pressure levels⁶.”

Monitor Your Numbers 

Your diet plays an important role in your blood pressure⁷ and healthy ranges, says Acerra. 

“The DASH diet is a well researched and effective nutrition plan to promote healthy blood pressure levels,” she says. “And make sure you know your numbers, have your blood pressure checked routinely to make sure you are staying well and on track.”

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