According to the American Heart Association, one in three adults has high blood pressure. Even young adults are not immune. A new study published in the journal Epidemiology found that high blood pressure affects one in five young adults.
If uncontrolled, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and blindness.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is defined as blood pressure higher than 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
The good news is that high blood pressure can be prevented and treated by lifestyle changes such as following a healthful eating plan. Research indicates that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan significantly lowers blood pressure. DASH also may lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, improve bone health, and improve the body’s ability to manage blood glucose levels.
The DASH eating plan is endorsed by the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), the National Medical Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. In January 2012, U.S. News & World Report released its second annual evaluation of 25 popular diets. DASH ranked number one in the categories of Best Diets Overall, Best Diets for Healthy Eating and Best Diabetes Diets.
By following the DASH eating plan, blood pressure may drop significantly in just 1-2 weeks. In studies of people with stage 1 hypertension (140-159/90-99 mmHg), research shows DASH lowers blood pressure as much as taking one high blood pressure medication. When those same people exercised regularly, further reduced salt intake and lost weight, the effect was the same as taking two blood pressure medications.
DASH is basically a well-balanced, plant-based eating plan. There’s no need for special foods or hard-to-follow recipes and there are excellent resources to help with meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation (see “Doing DASH?” below).
What is DASH’s secret weapon against high blood pressure? It dishes up a cornucopia of nutrient-rich foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and lean sources of protein. The nutrients in these foods—such as potassium, calcium, magnesium and protein—work together to help lower blood pressure. DASH is also low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugars, and moderate to low in sodium.
“I recommend DASH because it’s a really good, balanced eating plan,” says Laura McCain, registered dietitian and chef with Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Michigan. “Often, people feel that eating healthy is complicated and so they give up, or make it so rigid that they can’t do it. The DASH eating plan gives an overall picture of balanced eating. I encourage people to look at the meal plan and menus to see, in general, what meals should look like. Then, they can take those concepts and make it fit with their tastes and lifestyle.”
McCain believes the reason many people don’t eat healthfully is that they don’t know how to cook. “It just takes figuring out how to make food taste better,” she says. “Learning to cook is a mentoring process. Look for cooking classes and demos in your community, start a cooking club with friends, or watch the cooking channel or online cooking videos. The classes will teach you techniques and help you build a Rolodex of recipes in your head. You can always use a cookbook, but when you’re tired, it’s nice to be able to make something that you’ve made so many times, it’s automatic.”
Doing DASH? Resources to Help:
Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure interactive website, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Daily DASH Diary, National Dairy Council
DASH Health Education Kit, Dairy Council Digest
Spotlight on Dairy Foods: Dairy Nutrients & Blood Pressure, Dairy Council Digest
Book: The DASH Diet Action Plan by Marla Heller