According to multiple studies, 30-40% of American adults have high blood pressure, and only about 25% of those people have their condition under control.
While medication can help, research shows you can lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing hypertension in the first place naturally with a healthy eating plan. The best diet for high blood pressure is called the DASH Diet.
What is the DASH Diet?
The DASH Diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it gets its name from a study in which participants followed this healthy eating plan.
According to Michelle Routhenstein, Preventive Cardiology Dietitian Nutritionist at EntirelyNourished.com, DASH is “a diet designed to help prevent or lower blood pressure by focusing on foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low fat dairy, nuts, beans, and poultry.” The DASH Diet also emphasizes foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium, minerals essential to good health, and limits sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.
Studies show that reducing your sodium intake alone can lower blood pressure considerably. That’s one way DASH contrasts from the Standard American Diet (think: lots of beef, fried, and processed food).
During DASH studies, participants not only lowered their blood pressure but reduced their total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol). So the DASH Diet has other health benefits, as well.
What Do You Eat on the DASH Diet?
The DASH Diet includes these foods in the following suggested servings:
Whole grains are a great source of fiber. DASH recommends getting 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day, which you can easily do with 7-8 ½-cup daily servings of foods like:
- Whole wheat bread
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat pasta
- Pita bread
- Whole grain cereal
Aim for 4-5 ½-cup servings daily of vegetables such as:
- Green beans
- Sweet potatoes
Aim 4-5 ½-cup daily servings of fruits, such as:
- Oranges (include citrus three times a week to add extra potassium and fiber)
- Bananas (include often for extra potassium, which can also help lower blood pressure naturally)
Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy
DASH recommends 2-3 servings daily of dairy, including:
- Low-fat or fat-free yogurt
- Skim or low-fat milk
- Reduced fat or fat-free cheese
Lean Meat, Poultry, and Fish
Eat two or fewer daily 3-4 ounce servings of animal proteins, such as:
- Lean beef
- Broiled, roasted, or poached fish
- Broiled, roasted, or poached skinless chicken
Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes
Include these foods at least four times a week for added potassium, magnesium, and fiber:
- Sunflower seeds
- Peanut butter
The DASH Diet limits fats, but moderate amounts of healthy fats are allowed. These include:
- Olive oil
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
On the DASH Diet, you can also add herbs and spices liberally to your food for extra flavor and nutrients that help to lower blood pressure.
Foods to Avoid on the DASH Diet
To control blood pressure naturally with the DASH Diet, you’ll want to avoid:
- Extra salt at the table. Limit sodium intake to between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams a day.
- Canned soups and vegetables, frozen dinners, and packaged snacks. If you must eat packaged foods, choose items labeled “low sodium.”
- Bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and lunch meats.
- Smoked, pickled, and cured foods.
- Margarine, vegetable shortenings, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which can cause an increase in LDL, leading to plaque in the arteries.
Other Tips to Control Blood Pressure Naturally
The DASH Diet is part of a healthy lifestyle that can help you control your blood pressure naturally. Other tips for managing and preventing hypertension include:
Maintaining a Health Weight
- Reduce your calories by eating low-fat foods and smaller portions.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes daily.
Reducing Caffeine Consumption
- Limit yourself to 2 caffeinated beverages per day or choose decaffeinated coffee or tea..
- Avoid caffeine-containing medications such as Excedrin Extra Strength, Midol, and NoDoz.
Drinking Plenty of Water
- Drink 8 cups of water per day.
- Fill up a pitcher of water and keep it on your desk or on the counter to remind yourself to hydrate. You can also use apps or set reminders on your phone.
- Reduce the numbers of cigarettes smoked, or quit if you can.
- Seek assistance in quitting. Call 1-800-NOBUTTS.
- Discuss with your doctor.
DASH Diet: The Best Diet for Hypertension
“High blood pressure can silently lead to many life-threatening heart conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation, and this is one of the science-backed diet approaches that has successfully improved blood pressure values,” Routhenstein says. This is why the DASH Diet is a great start to treating high blood pressure naturally. Although, you’ll want to focus on living an overall healthy lifestyle, as well.
“We need to look at the whole picture of why you may be at risk for or have high blood pressure,” Routhenstein adds. “Insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and a high calcium heart score can cause high blood pressure.” So you may need to address other issues, as well, for optimal heart health.
Still, the DASH Diet is a great start to reversing hypertension–without or in addition to medication.
Carrie Solomon is a freelance health writer, web copywriter, and passionate wellness enthusiast. She’s on a mission to help wellness-focused companies everywhere educate, engage, and inspire their audiences to make the world a healthier, happier place. Learn more about her at copybycarrie.com or on LinkedIn.
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