High blood pressure can, however, be managed with medication and diet. If you’re worried about the effects of drugs with long-term use, then you might be more inclined to try dieting.
Bad diet – a leading cause of high blood pressure
Experts agree – diet is usually a cause of abnormal blood pressure. Since food leads to its development as a chronic condition, then it makes sense to be able to reverse it also with food. Follow the advice of dietitians and scientists: you have to adopt certain dietary tactics to get better.
In the light of such discoveries, researchers formulated a diet that can prevent or treat hypertension and therefore can be adopted by anyone with a concern for their cardiovascular health. Our Beginner’s Guide to the DASH Diet will tell you everything you need to know about it.
In general, any kind of bad diet that makes one gain weight is going to have a negative impact on their blood pressure. Obesity goes hand in hand with hypertension, since the excessive weight makes it so difficult for the blood to move freely, therefore leading to an increase in its pressure.
Stop hypertension with the DASH Diet
DASH or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension is a form of diet which eliminates a series of dangerous foods, while being focused on the ones considered safe and beneficial: whole grains, vegetables, fruit and lean meat. It is a low-fat diet and comes with further recommendations, such as eliminating processed foods, which regularly contain large quantities of salt, as well as lowering the intake of meat.
Research showed that vegetarians and vegans don’t get hypertension and connected diseases as much as the other groups. Therefore, eating less meat or better, eliminating it completely, can be an excellent method of prevention. The DASH Diet however doesn’t have to be entirely plant-based, although this would be ideal. Its focus lies on the important nutrients and on getting as much of these as one can.
The rules aren’t that strict – there are mainly guidelines. A most wonderful thing about DASH is that it can spectacularly improve the health of people already affected by high blood pressure. In such cases, it brings the tension 11 points lower (on average), compared to the 3 points in healthy/normal people. As you will see in this Beginner’s Guide to the DASH Diet, food has a restorative power when the right nutrients are provided and the wrong ones eliminated. The most important part of the diet seems to be the salt intake, since this is what has shown the top results in research.
What to eat ?
DASH does not point at specific foods, only at certain groups, since its goal is to create new eating patterns. Here are the foods you can indulge in: whole grains (e.g. whole grain bread and breakfast cereals, quinoa, oatmeal, rice and pasta made of whole grains, which are darker), vegetables (tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, squash, spinach, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans and all the vegetables you can think of), fruits (berries, apples, pears, peaches, mango, avocado, pineapple etc.), dairy (low-fat yogurt and skim milk, low-fat cheese, never in large quantities), meat (lean chicken and fish, with red meat only occasionally, like once a week).
You can also eat eggs. In addition, have frequent servings of legumes, nuts and seeds (kidney beans, lentils, peas, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds), plus nut butters. Margarine and vegetable oils are allowed, including olive, safflower, canola and corn oil. You may have a little dressing or mayonnaise with your salad – 1-2 tablespoons maximum. You should also pay attention to the beverages. Stay away from soda or any other sweetened drinks. Alcohol is also restricted, although you may have the occasional glass of wine.
Drink plenty of water and, should you need stimulation, have your coffee or tea. It’s true, caffeine is controversial here, but studies show that it should not create any worries; caffeine may indeed make blood pressure rise, yet it is only for the short term. In the long run, it does not lead to increased tension in the vessels. One may even have up to three coffees a day. Those who already have high values must be a little more careful.
DASH diet restrictions
Hypertension represents an abnormal and possibly harmful condition (it may not be rough to everybody, but it can kill some). It needs to be managed accordingly. Dietary restrictions are thus very important. Although the foods below may seem harmless or even beneficial, they tend to increase your blood pressure. Therefore, the DASH diet tells you must avoid:
- red meat,
- fatty meats,
- refined grains,
- excessive salt (some claim that salt should be eliminated, but this can be dangerous instead of beneficial; salt is essential to the vital processes within the body, especially to the brain’s electric impulses),
- excessive fat,
- alcohol (never have more than 2 drinks per day)
- added sugars (soda, candy etc.).
You can get your lean protein from beans, lean fish, chicken, lentils, broccoli and other low-fat sources. The low-salt version of this diet allows one to have ¾ teaspoon of sodium per day or maximum 1,500 mg. Other versions allow salt up to 5-6 g per day, which is still much lower than the usual average of 9-12 g.
It is safe to eliminate salt (meaning to stop adding salt to foods) when you know your daily food already contains it (for example bread or canned soup). When we eat food that was already prepared or processed, then we can be sure there will be a certain amount of salt in it – unless it’s stated otherwise.
Do you need to follow the DASH diet?
If you are already diagnosed with high blood pressure, then it is certainly good for you to start dieting based on the rules presented above. If you suspect you may have the condition, then you must go to a physician to test you and conform the diagnosis. In case your systolic pressure is below 120 mmHg and your diastolic pressure lower than 80 mmHg, then you can be considered perfectly normal.
You will usually see blood pressure written as 120/80 (with the numbers here representing the superior threshold). If you go above these numbers, then your blood pressure is high and requires your attention. However, do not wait until your numbers are on the wrong side.
Hypertension has unpleasant symptoms that one day may come out of the blue and take you by surprise, such as extreme dizziness. Plus, if it has an early onset, then it will cause damage much sooner. Thus, you should consider taking preventative measures. You can start the diet at any point.
Can one lose weight with it?
The DASH Diet is not about losing weight; its goal is to reduce blood pressure by eliminating the factors that contribute to it. However, it can also help you decrease your size, since you won’t be consuming some seriously fattening foods. When sugary foods are avoided, you cannot snack on cookies and similar foods anymore.
As for salt, it also makes dishes and snacks very tasty, thus making you eat more. When you’re no longer eating salty, you ingest a lot less. You can finally have better control over yourself and the amounts of food you get. And if you do lose weight, then it is going to be highly beneficial. People who already developed high blood pressure tend to be overweight anyhow.
Losing weight is actually one of the methods recommended to control (lower) hypertension. To be successful at it, however, you must burn more calories than what you are ingesting.
The many benefits of DASH
The DASH diet contains sensible advice for all people, not just for those who fear the levels of their blood pressure or their weight. By reducing the amount of animal fats and the sugar intake for example, a lot of health problems can be avoided. All in all, the diet is said to lower the risk of getting certain types of cancer, especially the ones located along the digestive tract, as well as the metabolic syndrome risk (%80 lower).
In addition, it becomes harder to develop diabetes as insulin resistance is improved. Generally, the risk of getting any of the heart diseases is considerably lowered. The risk of stroke in women is reduced with almost 30%. A diet consisting of more fruits and vegetables is sure to increase the intake of minerals, vitamins and plenty of other bio-available substances that otherwise lack. This leads to improvements in all areas.
How about exercise?
Like with any other diet, DASH also becomes more effective if you’re active. This is valid for both weight loss and blood pressure decrease. Half an hour of exercise at a moderate pace will suffice if you make it a daily habit.
It’s alright if you skip a day or two though. You may choose cycling, running, swimming and walking at a brisk pace. When you find it really hard to engage in exercise, either because of a busy schedule or low energy, then you can do the housework instead and count is as a session. If the circumstances allow you, however, then try to do as much as you can in this regard.
Will it work for everyone?
Following this protocol does not lead to equal results. It largely depends on the existing health issues of every person concerned, with the personal effort they put into the diet and their lifestyle. Those who are most careful with what they eat have the best results. For example, individuals who closely watched their salt intake and eliminated not just the added salt, but also the products that contained it, managed a stunning decrease in blood pressure.
The diet has a normalizing effect. As mentioned above, if the person is healthy, the results will not differ too much from the existing levels. On the other hand, if they already developed hypertension, then the improvement can be drastic. Salt is quite a controversial topic, however. It is hard to tell how every person will react without it. This is because some are “salt sensitive” are react differently than the rest.
After all, salt is not something to be completely eliminated from one’s diet. It has a crucial role to health and must be consumed daily – as long as you don’t top the 1,500 mg level. The best advice is to start reducing salt gradually, to see how the body responds to the change. If it starts to be bad, stop there – don’t risk anything for the sake of the diet, your goal is to be healthy after all.
Blood pressure is one of the best health indicators we have. Caring about this aspect is of utmost importance. It is easy to track, you can see devices accessible everywhere. The DASH Diet is an antihypertensive protocol that can not only reverse high blood pressure when done consistently, but can also prevent such issues if started early on. To make it work, you need to understand all the aspects involved and why all the restricted foods are bad. Unfortunately, people keep making one big mistake.
Most of them do not take all the guidelines seriously and just stick to the easiest one, that which refers to salt. Thus, they lower their salt intake to dangerous levels, without adopting any other dietary changes. It is the only thing they do because it’s easy.
This is a completely wrong approach. If you find DASH too hard to follow, you may also look into other beneficial diets. Similar approaches are found the Mediterranean and the Nordic diets, both proven effective. All the trials, studies and data available show that food indeed can prevent or heal hypertension.