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In Brief: Your Guide To Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH
What you eat affects your chances of developing high blood pressure (hypertension). Research shows that high blood pressure can be preventedand loweredby following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which includes eating less salt and sodium.
High blood pressure, which is blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg,* affects more than 65 millionor 1 out of every 3American adults. Another 59 million Americans have prehypertension, which is blood pressure between 120/80 and 140/89 mmHg. This increases their chances of developing high blood pressure and its complications.
High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes your heart work too hard, hardens the walls of your arteries, and can cause the brain to hemorrhage or the kidneys to function poorly or not at all. If not controlled, high blood pressure can lead to heart and kidney disease, stroke, and blindness.
But high blood pressure can be preventedand loweredif you take these steps:
If you already have high blood pressure and your doctor has prescribed medicine, take your medicine, as directed, and also follow these steps.
The DASH Eating Plan
The DASH eating plan is rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. It also contains less salt and sodium; sweets, added sugars, and sugar-containing beverages; fats; and red meats than the typical American diet. This heart healthy way of eating is also lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and rich in nutrients that are associated with lowering blood pressuremainly potassium, magnesium, and calcium, protein, and fiber.
How Do I Make the DASH?
The DASH eating plan requires no special foods and has no hard-to-follow recipes. It simply calls for a certain number of daily servings from various food groups.
The number of servings depends on the number of calories you're allowed each day. Your calorie level depends on your age and, especially, how active you are. Think of this as an energy balance systemif you want to maintain your current weight, you should take in only as many calories as you burn by being physically active. If you need to lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn or increase your activity level to burn more calories than you eat.
What is your physical activity level? Are you mostly:
Use the chart below to estimate your daily calorie needs.
Your Daily Calorie Needs
Now that you know how many calories you're allowed each day, find the closest calorie level to yours in the chart called "Following the DASH Eating Plan." This shows roughly the number of servings from each food group that you can eat each day.
Next, compare DASH with your current eating pattern. Fill in the "What's on Your Plate and How Much Are You Moving?" chart for 12 days to compare what you usually eat with the DASH planand note how active you are. This should help you decide what changes you need to make in your food choicesand in the sizes of the portions you eat.
"A Day With the DASH Eating Plan" shows a sample menu based on about 2,000 calories a day. Increase or decrease the serving sizes for your own calorie level. This chart also shows the two levels of sodium, 2,300 and 1,500 milligrams, that DASH allows each day. Because fruits and vegetables are naturally lower in sodium than many other foods, DASH makes it easier to eat less sodium. Try it at the 2,300-milligram level (about 1 teaspoon of table salt). Then, talk to your doctor about gradually lowering it to 1,500 milligrams a day. Keep in mind: The less salt you eat, the more you may be able to lower your blood pressure.
Choose and prepare foods with less salt, and don't bring the salt shaker to the table. Be creativetry herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, wine, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table. And, because most of the salt, or sodium, that we eat comes from processed foods, be sure to read food labels to check the amount of sodium in different food products. Aim for foods that contain 5 percent or less of the Daily Value of sodium. Foods with 20 percent or more Daily Value of sodium are considered high. These include baked goods, certain cereals, soy sauce, some antacidsthe range is wide.
DASH Tips for Gradual Change
Make these changes over a couple of days or weeks to give yourself a chance to adjust and make them part of your daily routine:
Use this chart to help you plan your menusor take it with you when you go to the store.
* Whole grains are recommended for most grain servings as a good source of fiber and nutrients.
† Serving sizes vary between ½ cup and 1¼ cups, depending on cereal type. Check the product's Nutrition Facts label.
‡ Since eggs are high in cholesterol, limit egg yolk intake to no more than four per week; two egg whites have the same protein content as 1 oz of meat.
§ Fat content changes serving amount for fats and oils. For example, 1 Tbsp of regular salad dressing equals one serving; 1 Tbsp of a low-fat dressing equals one-half serving; 1 Tbsp of a fat-free dressing equals zero servings.
Abbreviations: oz = ounce; Tbsp = tablespoon; tsp = teaspoon.
Use this form to track your food and physical activity habits before you start on the DASH eating plan or to see how you're doing after a few weeks. To record more than 1 day, just copy the form. Total each day's food groups and compare what you ate with the DASH eating plan at your calorie level.
Other Lifestyle Changes
Making other lifestyle changes while following the DASH eating plan is the best way to prevent and control high blood pressure.
Lose Weight, If Necessary, While Following DASH
DASH is rich in lower calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables, so it can easily be changed to support weight loss. You can reduce calories even more by replacing higher calorie foods, such as sweets, with more fruits and vegetables. The best way to take off pounds is to do it slowly, over time, by getting more physical activity and eating fewer calories. To develop a weight-loss or weight-maintenance program that's tailored for you, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian.
Be Physically Active While Following the DASH Eating Plan
Combining DASH with a regular physical activity program, such as walking or swimming, will help you shed pounds and stay trim for the long term. Start with a simple 15-minute walk during your favorite time of day and gradually increase the amount of time you are active. You can do an activity for 30 minutes at one time, or choose shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. The important thing is to total about 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days. To avoid weight gain or sustain weight loss, try for 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity each day.
Make the DASH for Life
DASH can help you prevent and control high blood pressure. It can also help you lose weight, if you need to. It meets your nutritional needs and has other health benefits for your heart. So get started today and make the DASH for a healthy life.
Abbreviations: mg = milligram; Tbsp = tablespoon; tsp = teaspoon; oz = ounce; g = gram.
To Learn More
Contact the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) for information on heart disease and heart health.
NHLBI Health Information Center
Also check out these heart health resources:
NHLBI Web site: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
"Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005" and "A Healthier You": http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/
"Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure With DASH": http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart/hbp-dash-index.htm
"Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure": This content has been retired.
"Aim for a Healthy Weight": http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/index.htm