According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s reported rates of hypertension are some of the highest in the world. High blood pressure is known as the silent killer; many people do not know they have it since it has no signs or symptoms. When left untreated, high blood pressure damages the circulatory system and can lead to kidney damage, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. Reducing risk factors, making lifestyle changes, and overhauling how you eat can lower blood pressure. DASH is a perfect place to start.
WHAT IS THE DASH DIET?
DASH stands for the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It’s an eating pattern developed to prevent and treat high blood pressure and promote heart health. The DASH diet is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life.
DASH is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat or non-fat dairy. You’ll focus on selecting whole foods from all five food groups, providing you the nutrients you need to lose weight and lower blood pressure naturally. Research also shows great benefit to sodium restriction. In DASH diet trials, the more that sodium was restricted, the greater the drop in blood pressure for the individual. DASH does not limit all sodium or cut out everything you enjoy, instead it focuses on a few simple solutions should help you meet your health goals.
Tips When Following a Dash Diet
Add nuts, seeds, and legumes.
These are good sources of magnesium, potassium, and protein. They’re also full of fiber, phytochemicals, and healthy fats, including monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids.
Choose lean proteins.
Lean cuts of meat, poultry, and fish provide a range of nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Animal protein is also a high- quality, complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. Limit choices that are high in saturated fat to keep your cholesterol levels healthy. Plant foods are a great way to get nutrients, including protein, without too much saturated fat. Beans, lentils and tofu are excellent choices.
Consider your calories when it comes to dairy.
Dairy foods are a great source of three nutrients doctors recommend for healthy blood pressure: calcium, potassium, and magnesium. They’re also packed with high-quality protein. While dairy foods are rich in calcium, high-fat dairy contains saturated fats which are not good for heart health. Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products in place of full-fat options or calcium-fortified soymilk.
Eat more fruits and vegetables.
A generous amount of fruits and vegetables each day provides essential nutrients, including potassium, fiber, folate, beta-carotene (vitamin A), and vitamin C. Plant foods also provide phytochemicals and antioxidants—compounds that protect our bodies, boost our immunity, and reduce risk of chronic disease. Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of potassium which is important in managing blood pressure. Since some studies show that low intakes of potassium may be related to hypertension, making half your plate fruits and vegetables will help you increase your intake.
Limit sodium intake.
Many people think salt and sodium are interchangeable, but that’s not true. Sodium is a mineral and is one of the components in salt; the other is chloride. DASH works best if you work to reduce your intake to no more than 1 teaspoon of salt a day (2,300 milligrams sodium). For some people, it is less than ¾ teaspoon of salt (1,500 milligrams sodium).
Limit sugar and alcohol.
An easy place to cut calories is added sugars and alcohol. Limit your sweets to fewer than five servings each week. Alcohol can also raise blood pressure. One alcoholic drink is equivalent to either 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. Men who choose to drink should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day and women should consume no more than one drink per day. Reducing alcohol consumption may reduce blood pressure.
Seafood provides healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Eating about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood contributes to the prevention of heart disease by reducing risk factors, including high triglycerides, blood clot formation, and inflammation.
Swap out refined grains for whole grains.
Whole-grain foods provide fiber, energy-producing B vitamins, and iron. They also aid in healthy digestion, weight management, and reducing the risk of heart disease. Swap out saturated fats for healthy fats.
Seek out polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated (MUFA) fats for their essential fatty acids and high amounts of vitamin E.
These fats—found in fish, plants, and nuts—do not raise LDL cholesterol. Fats contain 100 to 120 calories per serving (for example, 1 tablespoon of olive oil), so use sparingly to avoid excess calories.
Be Physically Active
Physical activity is important. It promotes heart health and helps achieve overall fitness so you aren’t huffing and puffing climbing a simple set of stairs. Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises are recommended to help improve blood pressure. Regular physical activity may also help to increase levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol. Aim for at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, along with muscle-strengthening activities 2 or more days per week.