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Lower Blood Pressure with the DASH Diet

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Earlier this month we discussed ways to protect your bones for Osteoporosis Awareness Month. Did you know May is also High Blood Pressure Education Month? Half of Americans have high blood pressure, and many don’t know they have it. However, it’s important to know your numbers since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

One way to help lower blood pressure is to focus on your eating pattern or the foods you choose over a long period of time. Following the DASH Eating Plan has been shown to help lower blood pressure and heart disease risk overall. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and it was first introduced in 1977. Let’s discuss the basics of the DASH Eating Plan and what foods to include.

1.       Go lean with protein

Choosing lean meat will lower the amount of saturated fat being consumed. For example, when choosing what type of beef to buy, aim for at least 90% lean for ground beef and choose leaner cuts, like sirloin or chuck roast. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week to help improve heart health. Other lean protein sources include chicken, turkey, eggs, and plants sources, like beans, nuts, and seeds.

2.       Make half your grains whole grains

Aim for 6-8 servings of whole grains per day. A single serving of whole grains is considered 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta. Examples of whole grains include 100% whole wheat bread, quinoa, oatmeal, and popcorn.

3.       Lower your sodium intake

The DASH diet aims to keep sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day, that’s only 1 teaspoon of salt! To help lower sodium intake, look for low sodium claims on food packages like “no salt added,” “reduced sodium,” or “sodium free”. If you cannot find lower sodium canned vegetables or beans, you can rinse them under running water. This simple step removes 40% of the sodium! When cooking food at home, try using more herbs and spices instead of salt to season your meals.

4.       Fill your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables

Try to eat 4-5 servings of fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables each day. Fruits and vegetables have plant fiber and phytochemicals that are good for our hearts (as well as our bowels). Try to consume more non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, peppers, carrots and cucumbers.

5.       Switch to unsaturated fats

Consuming more unsaturated fats, can increase HDL, or “good cholesterol,” and decrease LDL, also known as the “bad cholesterol.” Try to limit saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature. This includes coconut oil, shortening, and lard. Fish, avocados, olives, nuts, and sea vegetables are good sources of unsaturated fats. Choose more of these for heart and brain health benefits.

6.       Limit added sugar

Most of the added sugar in our diets come from sugar sweetened beverages. Try to limit these sugary drinks and other sweets to no more than 5 servings a week. Use fruit and dark chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth and enjoy the taste of coffee and tea without the syrups and whipped cream.

By following the DASH Eating Plan, you will be consuming less saturated fat and sodium and more of the vitamins and minerals necessary to help lower blood pressure. This week, try incorporating components of the DASH diet into your life by starting small and setting goals. Maybe you want to add more whole grains or beans to your meals! For more information about the DASH Eating Plan, a weekly menu, and self-care activities to support health, visit wvik.org/wellness.

Tune in next week to learn more about herbs, their health benefits, and cooking tips.

Related resources:

· https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/dash-eating-plan

· https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/resources/week-dash-eating-plan

· https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/high-blood-pressure/high-blood-pressure-education-month

· https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/resources/self-care-tips-heart-health-fact-sheet

Kristin Bogdonas believes that everyone deserves access to fresh, affordable food and is committed to helping people improve their health literacy. In this digital age it can be difficult to decipher what nutrition information is accurate and what is hype. Connecting people with factual information and evidenced-based programs will help people build the skills and attain the knowledge necessary for positive behavior change. Although nutrition is important for a long and healthy life, one should not overlook the other dimensions of health required for overall wellbeing; physical, mental, emotional, vocational, spiritual, environmental and social. Each dimension impacting the next.