If you have been told you have high blood pressure, with the top number (systolic) of 140 or above, or the bottom number (diastolic) of 90 or above, you might be worried, and for good reason. High blood pressure means you have a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
Your doctor may have talked to you about taking medication to bring your numbers down. I’m here to tell you that might not necessarily be the best solution. If your numbers are low enough, you might be able to control your blood pressure by adjusting your lifestyle. If you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you may avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication.
That being said, do not stop taking, or make any adjustments to your medication unless you talk to your doctor first. In fact, you should probably talk to your doctor before making drastic changes to your diet.
Here are 10 lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure and keep it down:
The DASH Diet
- Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Reduce sodium in your diet
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Avoid tobacco products and secondhand smoke
- Cut back on caffeine
- Reduce your stress
- Monitor your blood pressure at home and make regular doctor’s appointments
- Get support from family and friends
You are what you eat-or so they say. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can be particularly important when it comes to controlling your blood pressure. What you choose to eat-and just as importantly, what you choose not to eat-may allow you to keep your blood pressure within safe limits.
Today you will learn about a proven diet for blood pressure control: The DASH diet.
LIMITING SODIUM INTAKE
About 30-40 percent of Americans are thought to be sensitive to sodium. For these individuals, cutting back on salt and other sodium-filled foods can make a major difference in blood pressure. Not everyone’s blood pressure responds in the same way to sodium.
Since it isn’t possible to predict who will respond to a decrease in sodium intake, doctors recommend that everyone limit daily sodium intake to less than 2300 milligrams (about one teaspoon of table salt). Some research suggests people with high blood pressure can lower their levels even more by staying under 1500 milligrams of sodium per day.
Reducing sodium intake can also help blood pressure medications work more effectively. Remember, though, you should not make any changes to your medications unless your doctor approves.
Should you cut back on sodium even if you don’t have high blood pressure? Yes, it makes sense for everyone.
Consider these statistics:
- The American population as a whole consumes too much sodium.
- 30% of individuals with high blood pressure are not aware of their condition.
SHAKE THE HABIT
Many people add salt to their food at the stove and at the table. But sodium is also found in most packaged, processed, canned, and frozen foods-even in those that may be low in fat and calories.
You can cut back on the amount of sodium you take in by:
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Not adding salt to food at the table.
- Buying fresh foods rather than packaged, processed, canned, and frozen selections.
- Replacing salty ingredients (e.g., soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon cubes) and condiments (e.g., ketchup, barbecue sauce, bottled salad dressings) with low sodium or homemade alternatives.
- Asking restaurants to prepare menu items without MSG (monosodium glutamate).
- Preparing foods with little or no salt.
- Eating foods rich in potassium, such as leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach and dry beans, and fruits such as bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, honeydew, dried plums, and dried apricots (unless you’ve been told by a doctor to limit the amount of potassium you eat).
THE DASH APPROACH
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet from the National Institute of Health successfully lowers blood pressure.
Findings from key studies showed that blood pressures were reduced with the DASH eating plan. This eating plan is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat, and it emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
The DASH eating plan also includes whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts. It is lower in lean red meat, sweets, added sugars, and sugar containing beverages compared to the typical American diet. It is rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber.
This program may also help to prevent blood pressure from becoming elevated. The DASH eating plan in this guide shows recommended servings for individuals eating 2,000 calories per day or 1,600 calories per day. The number of daily servings in a food group may vary from those listed, depending on your calorie needs.
|Whole Grains and Whole Grain Products||Vegetables||Fruits||Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy Foods|
|Daily Servings (except as noted)||6 to 8 servings|
|4 to 5 servings|
3 to 4 servings
|4 to 5 servings|
|2 to 3 servings (same for both calorie levels)|
|Serving Sizes||1 slice bread|
1 cup dry cereal*
½ cup cooked rice, pasta or oatmeal
|1 cup raw, leafy|
½ cup cooked or raw
½ cup vegetable juice
|1 medium fruit|
½ cup fresh, frozen or canned
¼ cup dried
½ cup fruit juice
|8 oz. milk (1 cup)|
1 cup yogurt
1½ oz. cheese
|*Serving sizes vary between ½ to 1¼ cups, depending on cereal type. Check the product’s nutrition label.|
|Examples||Whole wheat bread and rolls, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, whole wheat bagel, whole grain cereal, grits, oatmeal, pita bread, unsalted pretzels and popcorn||Broccoli, carrots, collards, kale, peas, potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, squash, and tomatoes||Apples, apricots, bananas, dates, grapes & raisins, mangoes, melons, oranges, pears, pineapples, plums, peaches, strawberries, and tangerines||Buttermilk, milk (skim or 1%), lactose-free milk; fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat cheese; fat-free or low-fat yogurt (regular or frozen)|
|Significance of Food Group to the DASH Eating Plan||Major sources of energy and fiber||Rich source of potassium, magnesium, and fiber||Important sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber||Major sources of calcium and protein|
|Lean Meats, Poultry and Fish||Nuts, Seeds and Dry Beans||Fats and Oils||Sweets and Added Sugars|
|Daily Servings (except as noted)||6 or fewer servings|
3 to 6 servings
|4 to 5 servings per week|
3 servings per week
|2 to 3 servings|
|5 or fewer servings per week|
|Serving Sizes||1 oz. cooked meats, poultry or fish|
1 egg (limit egg yolk intake to no more than four per week; two egg whites have the same protein content as 1 oz.of meat)
|1/3 cup or 1½ oz. nuts|
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 Tbsp or ½ oz. seeds
½ cup cooked, dry beans or peas
|1 tsp soft margarine|
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Tbsp salad dressing
|1 Tbsp sugar|
1 Tbsp jelly or jam
½ cup sorbet, gelatin
1 cup lemonade
|Examples||Select lean cuts; trim away visible fats; broil, roast, or boil (don’t fry); remove skin from poultry||Almonds, mixed nuts, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, lentils, and split peas||Soft margarine, vegetable oil (such as canola, corn, olive, or safflower), low-fat mayonnaise, light salad dressing||Fruit-flavored gelatin, fruit punch, hard candy, jelly, maple syrup, sorbet and ices, sugar|
|Significance of Food Group to the DASH Eating Plan||Rich sources of protein and magnesium||Rich sources of energy, protein, magnesium, fiber, and potassium||The DASH study had 27 percent of calories as fat, including fat in or added to foods||Sweets should be low in fat|
DASH OFF TO HEALTH
The following strategies can also help you make blood pressure-friendly changes to your diet. If seven or eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day seem like a lot, spread them out during the day (i.e., two servings at each meal and two more as snacks).
- Orange juice and a banana at breakfast
- Sliced tomatoes and lettuce at lunch
- Steamed broccoli at dinner
- Dried apricots or carrots for snacks
Note: If using canned vegetables, buy those that are low in sodium or have no added salt.
Get three servings of low-fat dairy products by having one at each meal.
- Top breakfast cereal with yogurt
- Add a slice of low-fat cheese to your lunch sandwich
- Drink a glass of skim or low-fat milk with dinner
- If you have trouble digesting dairy foods, try lactase enzyme pills or drops or buy lactose-free milk
- Look for whole grain breads that have added B vitamins.
IS CAFFEINE A CULPRIT?
Caffeine is found in many common foods-tea, coffee, chocolate, and colas. It is also an ingredient in several over-the counter medications and prescription drugs. Caffeine does cause blood pressure to rise temporarily. The rise in blood pressure may be more pronounced when a person is under stress. Although there are no nutritional guidelines in place governing caffeine consumption, it is probably a good idea to discuss caffeine use with your doctor if you have high blood pressure.
CUTTING BACK ON ALCOHOL
Alcohol can raise blood pressure. If you’re taking medication, alcohol may also interfere with its effectiveness. Experts recommend limiting alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day for females and two drinks a day for males, if you drink. If your doctor recommends less, follow his or her guidelines.
One drink equals:
- 12 oz. can of beer
- 5 oz. glass of wine
- 1.5 oz. of 80 proof liquor
Think about this:
What small improvement might you make in your diet this week that could help you on your way to good blood pressure control? Leave a comment and let me know.
Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH, NIH Publication No. 06-4082, revised April 2006, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Mayo Clinic: 10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication