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High Blood Pressure: Using the DASH Diet

Overview

The DASH diet is an eating plan that can help lower your blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension is high blood pressure.

The DASH diet focuses on eating foods that are high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These nutrients can lower blood pressure. The foods that are highest in these nutrients are fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes. But taking calcium, potassium, and magnesium supplements instead of eating foods that are high in those nutrients does not have the same effect. The DASH diet also includes whole grains, fish, and poultry.

The DASH diet is one of several lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend to lower your high blood pressure. Your doctor may also want you to decrease the amount of sodium in your diet. Lowering sodium while following the DASH diet can lower blood pressure even further than just the DASH diet alone.

How can you make DASH a habit?

Plan for success

Making a plan can help you change your habits. First, think about why you want to change. Then set long-term and short-term goals you can reach. Track your progress in a notebook, or try a smartphone app. Plan ahead for things that might get in your way. And ask friends and family for support.

Set goals

Focus on small goals. You'll succeed more often. And small goals help you reach your bigger goal. Make your goals specific, like eating one extra serving of vegetables a day instead of planning to "eat more vegetables." Focus on one goal at a time. When you reach it, set the next goal.

Start using DASH

These tips can help you follow the DASH eating plan. The DASH eating plan is rich in fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy foods, and healthy fats. It can help lower your blood pressure.

Talk to your doctor before you begin this diet. Some people have health problems that cause them to have too much potassium in their blood. People who have these problems may need a diet that is lower in potassium than the DASH diet.

  • Eat fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.
    • Take fruit to work or school as a snack.
    • Use a variety of cut-up vegetables with a low-fat dip as an appetizer, instead of high-fat chips and dips.
    • Make a stir-fry with lots of different vegetables.
    • Make a baked potato bar. Serve baked potatoes with a variety of vegetables, such as broccoli. And use other toppings, such as chili, ratatouille, salsa, and beans.
    • Buy a vegetarian cookbook. Try one recipe each month or each week.
    • Combine a ready-made pizza crust with low-fat mozzarella cheese and lots of vegetable toppings. Use tomatoes, squash, spinach, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and onions.
  • Try some vegetarian meals using beans and peas.
    • Add garbanzo beans to a salad.
    • Use fat-free refried beans.
    • Make split pea or black bean soup.
  • Get 2 to 3 servings of non-fat or low-fat dairy every day.
    • Drink skim milk. One cup (250 mL) has only 80 calories and no fat. And it is packed with blood-pressure-lowering nutrients.
    • Try non-fat or low-fat yogurt topped with fruit and unsalted nuts.
    • For a snack, have a smoothie made with low-fat or skim milk and frozen fruit chunks.
    • Make a dip for fruit from low-fat or non-fat vanilla yogurt and cinnamon.
    • For breakfast, have whole grain cereal, fruit, and skim milk.
  • Eat less saturated fat.
    • Use vegetable oils such as canola, olive, and corn oils.
    • Eat healthy fats from nuts and fish.
  • Eat less sodium.
    • Limit processed food, such as snack items, lunch meats, and canned soups.

Get past barriers and slip-ups

One of the important steps in changing your eating habits is figuring out what your barriers are. A barrier is anything that causes you to slip up in your goal to make a lifestyle change. The best way to overcome barriers is to identify them ahead of time and have a backup plan to deal with them.

For example, lack of time is a common barrier to healthy eating. You may tell yourself that you're too busy or that you have more important things to do than shop for and make healthy meals.

What has stopped you from changing your eating habits in the past? What do you think might stop you in the future? Write down those reasons. Then for each of your reasons, write some ideas for how you could get around it.

Find support

When you're making healthy eating changes, ask for support from friends and family. Let them know why healthy eating is important to you and what your challenges are. Ask a loved one to try new healthy meal ideas with you. Or simply ask for encouragement when you need it.

Stay with your new eating lifestyle

Keeping a lifestyle change going can be tough. It might help to remind yourself what your reasons were for making the change. Plan how you'll get past any new barriers. If you slip up sometimes, don't get mad at yourself. It's normal. Learn from those mistakes. And stay connected with your support system.

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