High blood pressure affects over 65 million people in the United States. That’s about 1 in every 3 adults. If you’re one of those people, your doctor may have suggested that you lose weight to lower your blood pressure. So what’s the best weight loss plan to control hypertension? Many experts recommend the DASH diet, along with a program for moderate exercise.
What is the DASH diet?
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet was developed based on research that evaluated how different eating plans and different types of food affected blood pressure in large groups of people. DASH research also evaluated diets containing various sodium levels to see how lowering your salt intake affects hypertension.
The research revealed that a low-fat diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy foods can substantially lower your blood pressure. Lowering sodium levels and increasing your intake of potassium and fiber will also help you to lose weight and improve your blood pressure.
What is on a typical DASH diet menu?
Mary Moon, M.D., a family practice physician, counsels her patients with high blood pressure to use the DASH diet. She says that patients benefit not only from the reduced salt intake but also from the reduced calorie intake and from eating foods with high nutritional value. This helps patients to lose weight and improve their health.
Dieters who choose the DASH eating plan can choose a sodium intake of either 2300 mg per day or 1500 mg per day. If you want to lower your blood pressure, the lower sodium level is recommended. However, the DASH program recommends that you make changes slowly, so if you are currently not monitoring your salt intake at all, your physician may recommend that you start at the higher level.
When you’re on the DASH diet, you consume foods from the following food groups:
Grains: 6-8 servings per day
Vegetables: 4-5 servings per day
Fruit: 4-5 servings per day
Milk: 2-3 servings per day
Meat/Fish or Poultry: 6 servings or less per day
Nuts/Legumes/Seeds: less than one per day (4-5 total per week)
Oils: 2-3 servings per day
Sweets and Sugars: less than 5 per week.
The nutrient breakdown for a 2,000 calorie per day DASH program at the 2,300 sodium level is listed below.
Total fat: 27%
Saturated fat: 6%
Cholesterol: 150 mg
Sodium 2300 mg
Potassium: 4,700 mg
Magnesium: 500 mg
Calcium: 1,250 mg
Pros and cons of the DASH diet
The DASH diet is not a commercial diet, like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. You won’t find pre-packaged meals and snack bars to order online for this eating plan. This might be a bonus for some people and a drawback for others.
The DASH diet does take some work in the beginning to learn about which foods to eat and which foods to avoid, but there is no cost to be on this eating plan. And because the foods are generally unprocessed, unpackaged goods, they may be less expensive than many of the prepared foods that you find in the store.
How do I get started on the DASH diet?
This eating plan can be customized for people who need to lose weight or for those who just want to control their blood pressure. Ask your physician which goal is best for you. Then get more information about the specific eating plan to follow at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Their free booklet Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH is available in several formats including a downloadable pdf.
Appel, Lawrence, M.D., M.P.H., et al " A Clinical Trial of the Effects of Dietary Patterns on Blood Pressure." New England Journal of Medicine April 1997.
High Blood Pressure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed: August 21, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm
Mary Moon, M.D., Interview. August 21, 2012.
Prevention and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Title of Page. American Heart Association. Accessed: August 21, 2012. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Prevention-Treatment-of-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002054_Article.jsp
What is the DASH Eating Plan? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Accessed: August 21, 2012.. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/
Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Accessed: August 21, 2012. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/bp/bp.htm