Do you have hypertension? Would you like to get off your blood pressure medication or take less of it? Does high blood pressure run in your family? Would you like to prevent hypertension and reduce your risk of heart disease?
This article will tell you everything you need to know about a well-known, scientifically proven and natural way to address high blood pressure - The DASH Diet.
What is the DASH diet?
The DASH diet (or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a highly effective dietary therapy to lower blood pressure. Despite its name, it is not a "diet", but rather an overall way of eating.
Research shows this particular dietary pattern can treat and prevent hypertension.
In fact, a landmark study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Appel, et al., 1997) showed that it only took 2 months for the DASH diet to significantly lower blood pressure. It lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 11.4 mm Hg and 5.5 mm Hg more, respectively, than a standard Western diet.
What is this "dietary pattern"?
The DASH diet calls for a low amount of salt and saturated fat, and a high amount of fibre, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. But what does "high" mean exactly?
The landmark DASH study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Appel, et al., 1997) that examined the effects of the DASH diet on blood pressure used the following nutrient targets:
Fibre = 31 g/day
Potassium = 4700 mg/day
Magnesium = 500 mg/day
Calcium = 1240 mg/day
These are more than twice the amount an average person consuming a Western diet eats.
That seems like a lot. How do I do it?
Don't worry - you don't need to constantly calculate the nutrients in your food. It's very simple!
Generally speaking, following the 5 DASH Principles below will help you hit the above targets. With a few changes, everything ends up taking care of itself!
For example, by simply eating more vegetables, nuts/seeds, and whole grains, you will significantly increase your intake of fibre, potassium, and magnesium.
What about salt?
In addition to increasing certain nutrients, the DASH diet also involves reducing sodium. A follow-up DASH study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Sacks et al., 2001) examined the effects of the DASH diet on blood pressure at high, medium and low levels of sodium.
The DASH diet with the lowest sodium intake (1500 mg/d) acheived the most substantial results.
This is at least 50% less than the sodium intake of the average person consuming a Western diet, which is more than 3000 mg/day!!
I'm worried about eating bland food. Can't I just eat more vegetables?
No. The research shows that it is the combination of both (1) reducing sodium and (2) increasing fibre, potassium, magnesium, and calcium that makes this therapy so successful. Both together are very important!
We promise - decreasing sodium doesn't have to be difficult and it doesn't mean you have to eat flavorless food.
How much do I need to decrease my salt intake?
The recommended target is 1500 mg sodium/day. The lower the sodium, the greater the results, the more powerful the effect on health, and the more likely you will be able to discontinue or decrease your blood pressure medication.
How do I know I'm hitting the targets?
At first, many people may have a difficult time knowing how much they should increase/decrease certain foods. It might be more than you think, or it might be less than you think.
Our DASH meal plan is a great way to get you familiar with what the amounts look like. After that, you may find it helpful when creating your own meal plan to check the right sidebar to make sure you are hitting the nutrient targets.
DON'T WORRY - You don't have to constantly calculate the nutrients in your food. Soon, you won't have to think about your choices or portions because it will become second nature!
Nutrient targets can be met by following the general guidelines below:
5 DASH PRINCIPLES
The following chart will guide you:
For salt, it's even easier! All you need to do is follow 2 critical guidelines. If you do this, you will eliminate 65% - 75% of the sodium consumed by the average Canadian!
Principles of Reducing Salt
Following these 2 principles are the single most effective way to substantially reduce salt in your diet.
Top 10 Processed Foods that Contribute the Most Sodium in the Diet
|Top Offenders||Better Substitute|
|Canned Soup & Other Canned Products||
Homemade soup, soaked and cooked dry beans, fresh tuna/salmon
or low-sodium canned soup, canned beans, canned fish, etc.
|Frozen Entrees||Home cooked meals|
|Lunch/Deli Meats||Using home cooked meats (shredded chicken leg, sliced turkey breast, roast beef, or pork tenderloin)|
or olive oil & vinegar
|Soy Sauce||Low-sodium soy sauce|
Fresh/dried herbs, spices, lemon/lime juice, vinegar, mustard. & homemade bbq sauce
or no-salt-added spices & low sodium sauces
or no-salt-added & low sodium tomato products
or low sodium broth
|Pre-Seasoned Chicken||Plain chicken similarly seasoned or marinated at home|
|Rice & pasta mixes||Plain rice & pasta similarly seasoned or flavored at home|
A simple trick is to choose foods that are as close as possible to their original form. Look how much the sodium increases the more a food is processed!
Try your best to choose whole food options, but if you need to consume a processed product, choosing low-sodium products makes a big difference... the low-sodium can of salmon in 81% less sodium than the original!!
Not all processed foods have low-sodium alternatives, so you will need to read the label. The table below will help you understand the information on the nutrition labels, so you can make the smartest choices.
Appel, L. J., Moore, T. J., Obarzanek, E., Vollmer, W. M., Svetkey, L. P., Sacks, F. M., ... & Lin, P. H. (1997). A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. New England Journal of Medicine, 336(16), 1117-1124.
Sacks, F. M., Svetkey, L. P., Vollmer, W. M., Appel, L. J., Bray, G. A., Harsha, D., . . . Cutler, J. A. (2001). Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet. The New England Journal of Medicine, 344(1), 3-10. doi:10.1056/NEJM200101043440101