High blood pressure (aka hypertension) is a chronic condition affecting around 29% or 70 million American adults. One out of every three adults has it and it’s called the “silent killer” due to few warning signs or symptoms. When blood pressure is elevated, it can do major damage to artery walls and organs like the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes. This puts a person at risk for a heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure and kidney disease.
One very effective lifestyle change of preventing or treating hypertension is to follow the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. When followed correctly, blood pressure can be reduced by a few points in just two weeks, making a significant reduction in health risks.
The DASH eating plan is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat while emphasizing increasing the minerals of potassium, calcium and magnesium. The one mineral it recommends to decrease is sodium. Studies have shown reducing dietary sodium lowers blood pressure. Although sodium is a necessary nutrient, the average American consumes about 3400 mg of sodium a day, whereas the DASH diet stresses between 1500 mg to no more than 2400 mg of sodium a day.
Eight steps to begin the DASH diet
Here are eight ways that highlight reducing sodium in the diet. Following these tips can help begin the process of lowering blood pressure:
- Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals low in sodium.
- Choose low-sodium or no-salt-added canned vegetables. Rinse canned vegetables in a colander under running water to remove excess sodium.
- Rinsing canned tuna and canned beans will also remove excess sodium.
- Avoid frozen dinners, boxed items, pizza, canned soups or broth and salad dressing which can contain a lot of sodium.
- When eating out, avoid menu items that indicate high sodium content: smoked, cured, soy sauce, pickled or broth.
- Choose fresh poultry, lean meat and fish, avoiding processed, smoked or canned items.
- Use herbs and spices to flavor foods. Instead of reaching for the salt shaker, reach instead for fresh or dried herbs, spices, vinegar, citrus and salt-free seasoning blends to season foods. In most recipes, salt can be reduced by half.
- Compare sodium amounts using the nutrition facts label. Look where the sodium content is listed and what the percent Daily Value (DV) is. Choose foods that have less than 5 percent of the DV for sodium and avoid foods with 20 percent of more of the DV for sodium. In the example below, the low-sodium canned diced tomatoes has only 10 mg or 1 percent of the DV in a one-half cup serving for sodium whereas the regular canned diced tomatoes has 150 mg or 6 percent in a one-half cup serving for sodium.
Who is the DASH Diet for?
There are many more components to following the DASH diet eating plan besides decreasing dietary sodium. Anyone can follow this diet regardless of their blood pressure status as it is a healthy way of eating for anyone of any age and can be followed for the rest of your life.
Another interesting facet of the DASH diet is that a recent study in in the March journal of Alzheimer’s & Dementia, did research on combining the main dietary components of both the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, naming it the MIND diet which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It demonstrated significant reductions of Alzheimer’s disease of 53 percent who followed it strictly and 35 percent of those who followed it more moderately. Therefore, the DASH diet may have important implications beyond just benefitting hypertension and heart disease.
To learn a wealth of information on how following the DASH diet, click here and begin taking steps toward the DASH diet and achieving lower blood pressure.
About Cheryl Mussatto, Registered Dietitian
Cheryl Mussatto has over 30 years of experience as a Registered Dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings that cover a wide span of nutrition experience. Currently she works as an adjunct professor for two community colleges, Allen Community College in Burlingame and Butler Community College in Council Grove, Kansas teaching two courses, Basic Nutrition and Therapeutic Nutrition. Cheryl also is a contributing author for osagecountyonline.com, an online newspaper and Edietitians, a global free nutritional and health magazine. Her articles for both publications pertain to nutrition topics that cover a diversity of health and nutrition interests for the general public. She is also certified as a health and wellness coach.