DASH for Lower Blood Pressure
DASH is a way of eating that has been found to lower blood pressure.
Last month, I discussed the prevalence of high blood pressure, or hypertension, among people with diabetes. I also mentioned that having hypertension can increase your risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy. A low-sodium diet has long been recommended to aid in the treatment of hypertension. You also may have heard of DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), an eating plan that has been shown to successfully treat hypertension in many people. Here are answers to some common questions regarding the DASH diet.
What is DASH?
DASH is a way of eating that has been found to lower blood pressure. The diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat — limiting cream, butter, whole milk, and high-fat meats such as red meat, sausage and bacon. Of course, this approach encourages intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk products, whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. The diet is a good source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber.
The table and information below summarizes the DASH diet.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
In the table above, one serving equals:
Grains = 1 slice bread, 1 ounce dry cereal, ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or cereal
Vegetables = 1 cup raw, leafy vegetables, ½ cup cut raw or cooked vegetables
Fruits = 1 medium fruit, ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit (light syrup or juice)
Milk = 1 cup fat-free milk or light yogurt, 1½ ounces reduced-fat cheese
Lean Meats = 1 ounce cooked lean meat, poultry, fish or 1 egg
Nuts, seeds, legumes = 1/3 cup or 1 ½ ounces nuts, 2 tablespoons peanut butter or seeds, 1/2 cup cooked, dry beans or peas
Fats = 1 teaspoon margarine or vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons salad dressing
Sweets = 1 tablespoon sugar or jelly, 1/2 cup sorbet
How does the diet work to lower blood pressure?
The DASH eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, which are good sources of potassium. A potassium-rich diet may help to reduce blood pressure by acting as a natural diuretic (a class of drug that increase urine production, promoting salt excretion), according to a report from Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association (May 2003).
Is the DASH diet low in sodium?
The DASH diet encourages more natural, low-sodium foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed foods. In addition, the DASH diet recommends starting at the level of 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium and then furthering lowering your intake to 1,500 mg per day.
Does the DASH diet have any other health benefits?
When followed with a low-sodium emphasis, the DASH diet may not only lower blood pressure, but it may also lower LDL cholesterol, the "bad cholesterol," and help with weight loss. Physical activityshould not be forgotten, however, as it is also a primary recommendation for weight loss as well as lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
Does the DASH diet fit with the eating recommendations for diabetes?
Yes, the DASH diet can fit into a healthy eating plan for people with diabetes. The DASH diet includes the same healthy foods recommended for people with diabetes, such as whole grains, lean protein, fruit, and lots of vegetables.
One of my ongoing dietary issues has been one of protein. Right after diagnosis, I ran a bit scared of all of the "excess protein kills the kidneys" lines and into the old-school health-foods' "you don't need as much protein as you think you do" train of thought. Combined with the calorie and sodium restrictions of my initial diabetes diet, a move away from animal-based proteins because of my cholesterol levels, and a medication which seemed to block nutrient...