By Katie Boscia, MS, RD
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, known as the DASH diet, was designed to help prevent and lower high blood pressure. If you follow this diet and add in some exercise, you can lose weight and reduce your risk for strokes, heart disease and kidney stones. The DASH eating plan can improve heart health by increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables and fiber in your diet, and reducing your intake of saturated fats, sugars and sodium.
There are many reasons this diet improves your heart health. Fruits and vegetables contain potassium, which has been shown to lower blood pressure. Low-fat or non-fat dairy products are also recommended, as the calcium in these can help regulate your blood pressure. The DASH diet is low in saturated fats and total fat, which can decrease your risk of heart disease and hypertension. Nuts are highly encouraged in this diet because they contain healthy fats and antioxidants that have been shown to decrease damage in blood vessels, as well as keep the vessels healthier for less restricted blood flow. Alcohol intake should also be limited to help reduce blood pressure.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which helped create the DASH diet, provides free online guidelines to assist you with making better choices. Based on your gender, age and physical activity level, these guidelines can help you determine how many daily calories you should consume, as well as the number of servings from various food groups. A registered dietitian can also help you determine what you should eat. However, if you want to get a jumpstart, it’s as easy as eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy, while cutting down on sodium and avoiding high-calorie and high-fat sweets and red meats.