DASH to Lower High Blood Pressure

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  3/22/2005 2:27:40 AM

A healthy eating plan can help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering blood pressure. LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says a healthy eating plan is called DASH - Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension has been shown to lower blood pressure. 

DASH is rich in low-fat dairy foods, fruits and vegetables. Lifestyle changes, including losing weight if overweight, reducing dietary sodium, exercising more and limiting alcohol consumption are also important. A healthier lifestyle actually improves the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

Reames says that the DASH eating plan includes 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy foods and 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. It also includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts and has reduced amounts of fats, red meats, sweets and sugared beverages.

It is high in calcium, potassium and magnesium, all of which are associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure and stroke, the LSU AgCenter nutritionist explains.

"High blood pressure is dangerous, because it makes the heart work too hard and contributes to atherosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries," Reames says, adding, "It increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are the first- and third-leading causes of death among Americans."

She notes that high blood pressure also can result in other conditions, such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease and blindness.

A blood pressure level of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high. About two-thirds of people over age 65 have high blood pressure. Prehypertension includes blood pressure readings between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg.

"People with these readings don’t have high blood pressure now but are likely to develop it in the future," Reames says, adding, "Adopting a healthful lifestyle can help prevent high blood pressure."

The nutritionist details the DASH plan:

  • If you now eat one or two vegetables a day, add a serving at lunch and another at dinner.
  • If you don't eat fruit now or have only juice at breakfast, add a serving to your meals or have it as a snack.
  • Use fruits or low-fat foods as desserts and snacks.
  • Use fruits canned in their own juice.

Reames says fresh fruits require little or no preparation, and dried fruits are easy to carry with you.

She says to gradually increase dairy products to three servings per day. For example, drink milk with lunch or dinner, instead of soda, alcohol or sugar-sweetened tea. Choose low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free (skim) dairy products to reduce total fat intake.

Increase servings of vegetables, rice, pasta and dry beans in meals. Try casseroles and pasta and stir-fry dishes having less meat and more vegetables, grains and dry beans.

Reames says research has shown that that reducing dietary sodium lowered blood pressure for people following both the DASH eating plan and the typical American diet.

The greatest blood pressure-lowering benefits, however, were for those eating the DASH eating plan at the lowest sodium level of 1,500 milligrams per day. Reames notes that most Americans should eat no more than 2,400 mg of sodium a day, which is about 1 teaspoon of table salt.

The nutritionist also suggests contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office to learn more about how a healthy lifestyle can help prevent and treat hypertension.

Please visit the Food and Health section of the LSU AgCenter website for additional information.

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