DASH stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. DASH diet has been clinically proven to reduce blood pressure within 2 weeks in individuals following the diet. It is not only known to help manage the blood pressure but is also designed for weight loss programs, helps to prevent heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer.
Who should follow a DASH eating plan?
In fact, a DASH eating plan can be a part of any healthy eating plan. Not only, will it help lower blood pressure but it will offer additional heart health benefits including lowering LDL cholesterol and inflammation.
How does the DASH eating plan work?
The diet consists of foods that are low in sodium and consists of a variety of foods that are rich in nutrients like potassium, calcium and magnesium are known to help lower blood pressure. The diet is rich in fiber that again helps to lower blood pressure and knock off the extra pounds which will in-turn assist in lowering blood pressure.
What should you eat on a DASH eating plan?
- Grains like whole wheat, brown rice, barley, oats, quinoa are packed with nutrients like proteins, B vitamins and trace minerals, fiber and antioxidants which has been shown to reduce the risk of several diseases. However, processed grains lack most nutrients and should be avoided.
- Include fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, Greek yogurt in your diet instead of full-fat options. For those who are lactose intolerant, lactose-free milk and milk products are an option.
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, etc, beans, and seeds like the sunflower seeds, melon seeds, etc are a part of a healthy eating DASH diet. They are rich in dietary fiber protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals like zinc and magnesium, etc. Although nuts contain the healthy fats, it would be wise to eat them in restricted amounts as they are high in calories. Also, avoid salted or honey roasted nuts for their high sodium and sugar content.
- Lean meat, egg, poultry and fish in moderation rather than meats with high saturated fat content. Processed meats such as bacon, ham, sausages, salami, etc contain a significant amount of sodium, hence restrict the intake. Occasional intake of red meat is permitted.
- Fruits and vegetables are naturally rich in potassium which plays an important role in lowering blood pressure. If you are one who is not fond of fruits and vegetables make the change gradually. Add an extra fruit or vegetable in the day in addition to what you are currently having. Prefer a whole fruit to juices. Unsweetened dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, dried figs, etc. are good travel choices. Make sure there is a vegetable at each meal.
- The diet should be low in saturated fats and total fats. A diet high in saturated fats increases the risk of heart disease and hypertension. Fats are important for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and help in building the body's immune system. Use of oils like olive oil, rice bran oil, mustard oil should be promoted in each meal and trans fats which are commonly found in processed and fried food should be avoided.
To make this diet work even better here are some additional tips:-
- Reducing alcohol intake may help reduce blood pressure. Hence, keep the alcohol intake under check.
- Aerobic exercise along with DASH diet works faster in lowering blood pressure.
- Read food labels to choose products that are lower in sodium.
- Stress can raise blood pressure even if the diet is healthy. Hence, stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, etc will help keep the blood pressure under check.
- Poor sleep increases blood pressure. So, 7-8 hours of sound sleep will help in keeping the blood pressure in control.
- If you are someone who smokes, then quitting could help lower blood pressure.
- Take your medication as prescribed.
- Limit extra salt intake to 1 teaspoon a day.
Making a lifestyle change is an effort. It is a long-term commitment which one has to make for good health. Making smaller changes will bring in faster results than making dramatic changes all at once and losing the commitment along the way. Before getting on the DASH diet, consult a nutritionist or dietitian who can help you with an individual program for yourself.