Want to lower your blood pressure naturally? Get your free DASH Diet Printable ebook and meal plan and learn more about the best diet and lifestyle tips to reduce your risk of heart issues and other diseases.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is called the “silent epidemic.” That’s because so many people have it. But because it rarely shows any warning signs or symptoms, it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking out for it. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), almost half of the adults in the U.S. have hypertension, and most don’t have it under control. In 2019, this resulted in over half a million deaths.
High blood pressure can be hazardous because it increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness, so regular blood pressure screening and a healthy diet and lifestyle are essential. This post is going to show you how.
The foods you eat affect many aspects of your health, and it’s never too late to start enjoying a more “heart-healthy” diet. There is one diet specially designed to help with high blood pressure. That’s called the DASH diet: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. And research says it works.
Disclaimer: If your doctor recommends medication to help you control your blood pressure, be sure to take it as directed and go for routine monitoring or testing as required.
Before I go into the details of the DASH diet, let’s define high blood pressure.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is how much pressure your heart needs to use to keep blood flowing through your vessels. You can think of it as water flowing through a flexible tube versus a rigid, rugged, narrow pipe. Imagine the pressure you would need to push the water through the hose versus the pipe. That’s how blood pressure works. The more force required, the more pressure it puts on your vessels, and the more damage it can do to the pump and the vessels, especially when high blood pressure persists over many years.
A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg. The first number (in this case, 120 mm Hg) is the systolic blood pressure in your vessels as your heart beats. The second number (in this case, 80 mm Hg) is the diastolic blood pressure in your vessels between beats. If your blood pressure is slightly higher than these numbers, it’s “elevated.” However, if your blood pressure gets above 130/80 mm Hg, you may be diagnosed with hypertension.
High blood pressure usually develops over many years. It can happen due to diabetes or obesity or not getting enough physical activity. It can also sometimes occur during pregnancy.
The good news is that there are ways you can manage high blood pressure and lower your risk for heart disease (angina, heart attack, heart failure), stroke, kidney disease, and vision loss.
Lifestyle changes for healthy blood pressure
Several healthy lifestyle habits can lower your risk for high blood pressure. The first is to not smoke because smoking is associated with many issues, including heart issues.
Another lifestyle habit for healthy blood pressure (and overall health) is getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity weekly. That can be done with as little as 30 minutes per day, five days per week.
Sodium and your blood pressure
Your nutrition impacts your blood pressure. Depending on your consumption, several nutrients can increase or decrease your blood pressure. The nutrients associated with lower blood pressure include potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber, and protein. However, sodium is the most infamous nutrient linked to increased blood pressure.
According to the American Heart Association, in general, the more sodium you consume, the higher your blood pressure. Sodium is one part of the salt compound, sodium chloride. One of the most significant sources of sodium intake in the diet is not your kitchen salt shaker but the sodium hidden in processed and packaged foods.
A recent study enrolled 20,995 participants with a history of stroke or high blood pressure to see if using a lower-sodium salt substitute would reduce their risk of stroke, heart incidents, and death. Half of the participants continued to use regular salt over several years, while half agreed to use the salt substitute (75% sodium chloride and 25% potassium chloride).
After almost five years, the participants who consumed the lower-sodium salt had fewer strokes, heart incidents, and deaths by 12-14%, which is substantial when millions of people are at high risk from hypertension.
What does DASH diet mean?
The DASH diet plan (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is considered one of the best overall diets by U.S. News and World Report. It is ranked as a top diet for heart health, healthy eating, diabetes, easy-to-follow, and general diets.
Harvard Health also rated the DASH diet and says, “research supports the use of the DASH diet as a healthy eating pattern that may help to lower blood pressure, and prevent or reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, kidney failure, and gout.”
Some studies show that the blood pressure-lowering effect of the DASH diet can be similar to that of people taking medication (for stage 1 hypertension). The DASH diet is full of whole heart-healthy foods with blood-pressure-lowering nutrients.
The DASH Diet emphasizes
- Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Lean protein like fish, poultry, and beans
- Healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including nuts and seeds
- Foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and lean protein
Foods to limit on a DASH diet
- Foods high in saturated and trans fat
- High sodium foods
- Sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets
The recommendations for a 2,000 calorie intake include a wide variety of food groups in the suggested number of servings below:
Unlike many restrictive diets, the DASH diet is well-balanced and sustainable for long-term health because it limits very few foods and nutrients. And, no special foods are required.
The health benefits of eating a lower-sodium DASH diet are vast and include many of the most common diseases impacting adults.
Tip! Slowly increase the amount of high-fiber foods in your diet to reduce the risk of gas and bloating!
If you are following a low FODMAP diet or a modified low FODMAP diet and need help customizing it with a DASH diet, please get in touch. I would love to help you!
How do I start the DASH diet?
If you have high blood pressure or want to start a healthier diet to reduce your risk for a whole host of diseases, then the DASH diet may be for you. To help you get started, I’ve put together a DASH Diet action plan for you featuring a free 3-day menu plan and Dash Diet printable ebook.
What’s Inside! Free Dash Diet Printable EBook and Meal Plan
- DASH Diet Guidelines Chart
- Tips for decreasing sodium and salt intake
- List of high potassium foods
- Dash diet-friendly food list
- Sample 3-day Dash diet menu plan
DASH Diet: Quick Recap
The DASH diet is rich in high-fiber foods that are highly nutritious and can help you enjoy a longer life free of stroke, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, blindness, diabetes, and gout.
The DASH eating plan is considered one of the easiest diets to follow and includes simple nutritional improvements like enjoying more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Even better, it consists of a wide variety of delicious foods to help you lower high blood pressure.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to get your free DASH Diet Printable Ebook and meal plan!
- American Heart Association. (2016, October 31). Managing high blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/managing-blood-pressure-with-a-heart-healthy-diet
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 18). High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, September 27). High blood pressure: Facts about hypertension.
- Harvard Public Health. (n.d.). Diet review: DASH. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/dash-diet/
- Mandrola, J. M. and Neal, B. (2021). Will the Positive Findings From the SSaSS Trial on Salt Substitution Silence, the Salt Skeptics? Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/957510#vp_1
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). DASH Eating Plan. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan
- Neal, B., Wu, Y., Feng, X., Zhang, R., Zhang, Y., Shi, J., Zhang, J., Tian, M., Huang, L., Li, Z., Yu, Y., Zhao, Y., Zhou, B., Sun, J., Liu, Y., Yin, X., Hao, Z., Yu, J., Li, K. C., Zhang, X., … Elliott, P. (2021). Effect of Salt Substitution on Cardiovascular Events and Death. The New England journal of medicine, 385(12), 1067–1077. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2105675 and https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa2105675
Let’s chat! Do you have any questions about the DASH diet? Have you tried it? If so, has it helped to naturally lower your blood pressure? If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it. Thanks so much for your support!