High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a medical condition that affects about 29% of American adults. High blood pressure can lead to hardening of artery walls and may cause hemorrhaging of the brain or kidney impairment. If not controlled, high blood pressure can lead to heart and kidney disease, stroke, and blindness.

Fortunately, high blood can be prevented and treated by exercise and a healthy diet. Moderate physical activity is recommended for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week for weight loss and blood pressure control. Following a healthy eating plan, such as the DASH Diet, that emphasizes low sodium foods, will have the greatest impact on lowering blood pressure. The combination of exercise and a diet low in sodium is the best way to prevent and treat hypertension.

What is the DASH Diet?

  • The “DASH” in DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH eating plan encourages individuals to reduce the sodium in the diet and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.
  • Fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts are the main components of a DASH diet. The DASH diet also contains less sodium; sweets, added sugars, and beverages containing sugar; fats; and red meats than the typical American diet.

How does it help to decrease blood pressure and weight?

  • By following the DASH diet, your blood pressure can be lowered by a few points in just two weeks. Over time, your systolic blood pressure could drop by eight to 14 points, which can make a significant difference in your health risks.
  • DASH is rich in lower-calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables, so it can easily lead to weight loss. Replacing higher calorie foods, such as sweets, with more fruits and vegetables can reduce calories even further.

How can I start following the DASH diet?

  • If your typical diet is not structured this way, making these changes to your eating patterns can be difficult. Making some adjustments over a few days or weeks time can give you the chance to incorporate the DASH diet into your meals:
    • Add a serving of vegetables at lunch and dinner or trying substituting your usual snacks with a serving of fruit.
    • Consume three servings of fat-free or low-far dairy products a day.
    • Limit lean meats to 6 ounces a day—3 ounces a meal, which is about the size of a deck of cards. If you usually eat large portions of meats, cut them back over a couple of days.
    • Include two or more vegetarian-style, or meatless, meals each week.
    • Choose and prepare foods with less sodium and salt, and don’t bring the salt shaker to the table. Be creative—try herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, wine, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table.

Interested in learning more?

About the Author:
Mary Albus is a nutrition intern with the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, studying at Pennsylvania State University.