DASH diet: How to lower your blood pressure with heart-healthy eating

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Changing what you eat is one of the most effective natural ways to lower your blood pressure. Still, with the number of popular diets and dieting fads today, choosing the proper diet that will help you decrease your blood pressure in a healthy and efficient manner can be challenging.

The DASH diet

According to a recent study from the American Heart Association, the DASH diet is the only diet – of 10 examined – the AHA gave a perfect score in terms of how well it adhered to the AHA’s guidance. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a dietary pattern developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, or NHLB, to help lower blood pressure and promote overall heart health.

“Almost anyone can utilize the DASH diet as it’s suitable for a wide range of individuals,” says cardiovascular disease specialist Samer Sayyed, MD. Still, it’s especially beneficial for:

  • Those diagnosed with hypertension
  • Individuals at risk of developing hypertension – i.e., people with a family history of hypertension or other risk factors for developing high blood pressure, such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, or a poor diet
  • Those with atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks or strokes
  • Individuals looking to improve overall heart health or are interested in following a balanced and nutritious eating plan

“Although experts designed the DASH diet primarily to help prevent and manage high blood pressure, it can help you address other health conditions too,” says Dr. Sayyed. “The DASH diet’s structure can be helpful for conditions such as atherosclerotic heart disease, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. Those with kidney disease may also benefit from the DASH diet since hypertension is a major risk factor for progressive renal failure and heart failure.”

Under the DASH diet, you’re encouraged to eat:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Fish, lean meats and poultry
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Vegetable oils

Conversely, the DASH diet recommends limiting your consumption of:

  • Foods high in saturated fat
  • Tropical oils (like palm and coconut oil)
  • Sodium
  • Foods with added sugar

Starting the DASH diet

“Before beginning the DASH diet – or any other diet – it’s vital to understand the basic principles of the diet and consult with a health care professional or a registered dietitian for personalized guidance based on specific health conditions and individual needs,” says Dr. Sayyed.

“It’s equally important to set realistic expectations. The DASH diet is a long-term, sustainable eating pattern to promote overall health, not a short-term “fix” for weight gain, hypertension and other conditions. Likewise, you must know foods' sodium content, read and understand labels, and choose low-sodium alternatives whenever possible.”

Finally, to ensure success and sustainability with the DASH diet, it's essential to plan and prepare meals in advance to ensure you're incorporating a variety of DASH-approved foods into your diet.

Supplementing the DASH diet

You can take other actions – combined with the DASH diet – to help you lower your blood pressure as much as possible. Other behaviors that can amplify the health benefits of the DASH diet and assist you in reaching your blood pressure goals include:

  • Aerobic exercises – such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling or swimming
  • Portion control
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Abstaining from smoking
  • Stress management

Effectiveness of the DASH diet

As previously mentioned, many experts recognize the DASH diet as one of the most effective for lowering blood pressure. “Studies show that by increasing fiber, protein and minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, people following the DASH diet can naturally lower their blood pressure by 3 to 20 points within weeks or months,” says Dr. Sayyed.

“This reduction is particularly true when you limit your sodium intake to approximately 1,500 mg daily. Still, it’s also vital to note that individual responses to any diet can vary.”

Be wary of these common dieting myths

Diets and the dieting industry are rife with misconceptions and misinformation. According to Dr. Sayyed, these are the top five dieting myths and their corresponding truths.

  • Myth #1: Diets are all about deprivation and strict rules.
    • Truth: The DASH diet – like many other healthy eating patterns – focuses on balanced and nutritious meals rather than deprivation. This diet encourages the consumption of a wide variety of foods. It allows for flexibility and enjoyment within its guidelines, ideally, to form lasting habits. Sustainable and long-term changes are generally more effective than short-term, restrictive diets.
  • Myth #2: You should avoid all fats for a healthy diet.
    • Truth: Not all fats are unhealthy. The DASH diet promotes the consumption of healthy fats, like those found in nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. These fats provide essential nutrients and can benefit heart health when consumed in moderation while limiting saturated and trans-fat intake.
  • Myth #3: Dieting means skipping meals or drastically reducing calorie intake.
    • Truth: Healthy eating isn't about extreme calorie restriction or skipping meals. Diets are primarily a means to maintain health and avoid illness. The DASH diet encourages balanced meals and snacks throughout the day to maintain energy levels and support overall well-being.
  • Myth #4: Diets are a quick fix for weight loss.
    • Truth: Sustainable weight loss and health benefits require a long-term approach and commitment. The DASH diet can help with weight management if you adopt healthy eating habits matching your individual caloric needs, which is key for long-lasting results.
  • Myth #5: Dietary supplements are necessary for a healthy diet.
    • Truth: While specific individuals may require supplements to cover nutritional deficiencies or address specific medical conditions, most people can obtain the necessary macro and micronutrients from a well-balanced diet – such as the DASH. Whole, minimally processed foods will provide a wide array of nutrients in their natural form, which most experts prefer over relying heavily on supplements.
If you want to learn more about the DASH diet or other ways to help lower your blood pressure, call 800.922.0000 to schedule an appointment today.