Of all the “silent killers” about which the medical community warns us, hypertension – high blood pressure – may be the quietest. Absolutely bereft of symptoms, it is nevertheless a substantial risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, vision loss, and chronic kidney disease.
In fact, 1 out of every 3 adults in this country have high blood pressure – that's 70 million people! And only half of those have their condition under control; the other half are well on their way to joining the one thousand people per day for whose death high blood pressure is a primary or contributing cause.
How do you prevent yourself from becoming a hypertension statistic? Eat right, and check your blood pressure frequently. To help you with the former, the National Institutes of Health created the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
It's the real deal: U.S. News and World Report named DASH the Best Overall Diet for six years in a row this past January. It also tied number 2 "For Diabetes", and ranked number 3 "For Heart Health" out of 38 diets tested.
The DASH diet is not a quick “gotta drop 5 pounds before bikini season” fix. It is meant to be a lifelong approach to healthy eating. It not only is engineered to drop your systolic blood pressure by eight to 14 points over time, but it also meets the dietary recommendations to prevent osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
So what do you get to eat? The short answer is, not a lot of salt. The standard DASH diet allows up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily, and the lower sodium version restricts your intake to 1,500 mg. By contrast, the typical American diet can tip out to some 3,400 mg of sodium a day or more.
DASH focuses primarily on fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. Whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts play a supporting role. Small amounts of red meat, sweets and fats are allowed. The diet is also low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat.
The DASH diet will dole out 2,000 calories a day, so no guarantees are made that you will lose weight on it. But because the diet steers you in the direction of low fat foods and less meat, you may find yourself slimming down just because you are making smarter food choices. The NIH has laid out the whole diet plan here.