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Diet and Nutrition

The DASH Diet -- Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension

Hypertension and Weight Loss

Most healthcare professionals agree that disease prevention is less costly (physically and financially) - than disease treatment. Take hypertension, for example. Hypertension (high blood pressure) affects over 50 million adults each year and is responsible for a number of deaths due to stroke, heart disease and kidney failure. Controlling hypertension is vital in preventing these complications.

Many people think that decreasing their salt intake is the only way to control hypertension. However, other dietary changes are equally important in the control of hypertension. Weight loss is even more beneficial. Being overweight raises the risk of hypertension two to six times more than if you're at normal weight. Obese individuals are also more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. A weight loss of just 10 lbs can improve blood pressure, diabetes and lipid levels. Being overweight raises the risk of hypertension two to six times more than if you're at normal weight.

DASH Diet

If you've got high blood pressure, the DASH diet is for you. The DASH Diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was developed in 1996 by researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Center for Health Research in Portland, Duke University Medical Center in Durham, John's Hopkins University, Baltimore and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. According to recent research by the NIH, the DASH diet has been proven to lower blood pressure in just 2 weeks!

Researchers have found that foods high in potassium and calcium help reduce blood pressure. The DASH diet is an eating plan that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy foods. It is also low in sodium, saturated fat and total fat. Researchers have found that foods high in potassium and calcium help reduce blood pressure.

Potassium

Potassium is a mineral that helps maintain heart function. Foods high in potassium are often recommended for people taking diuretics- a medication used in the treatment of high blood pressure. High potassium foods are also loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which are beneficial to overall health. High potassium foods include both fresh fruits and fresh or frozen vegetables. Fruits that top the list are bananas, kiwi, cantaloupe, peaches, oranges, grapefruit, apricots and dried fruit.

Vegetables high in potassium include spinach and other dark greens, broccoli, tomatoes, white and sweet potatoes and dried beans. Unfortunately, most of us don't eat enough vegetables in our diet.

Calcium

A diet high in calcium has also been linked with a reduction in blood pressure. High calcium, low fat foods include non-fat or low fat yogurt, skim and 1% milk, low fat cheese and reduced fat frozen yogurt and ice milk. For those with lactose intolerance or milk allergy, other foods high in calcium include dark, green, leafy vegetables, broccoli, tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice and calcium-fortified breads and cereals. A diet high in calcium is also recommended to prevent the destructive bone disease, osteoporosis. The DASH diet recommends three servings of low fat milk products daily.

DASH Diet Tips

The DASH diet is suggested by the National High Blood Pressure Education Program and is supported by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association. Recent research has found that the DASH diet also reduces blood cholesterol- a significant risk factor in the development of heart disease. If you or some one you love has hypertension, the DASH diet is a healthy way to lower blood pressure and other diseases. Here are some easy ways to follow the DASH diet:

  • Choose 4-5 servings of fresh fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables daily.
  • Grab a banana or fresh orange for a snack.
  • Add sliced tomatoes to sandwiches and salads or canned tomatoes to soups and sauces.
  • Toss sliced bananas, peaches or raisins in your dry cereal at breakfast.
  • Drink a glass of skim or 1% milk a few hours prior to bedtime. It will increase the calcium in your diet, and may improve your sleep. Optimally, try to have 3 dairy servings daily.
  • Grab a carton of yogurt for a treat instead of a slice of cake or a candy bar.
  • Add dried beans such as garbanzo or kidney to your soup or salad.
  • Cook without salt and don't add salt to your foods at the table.
  • Try fresh herbs or garlic in meats, soups, sauces, potatoes and other foods.

For more information on the DASH diet, click here.

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Last Reviewed: Aug 21, 2006

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati