Health Tips

Health tip

Did you know you can reduce your blood pressure without pills? A host of studies has found the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan—a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, with reduced saturated and total fat—can substantially lower blood pressure. This eating plan, originally published in 1997, not only reduces blood pressure, it can also lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

  • Some specifics: The blood-pressure lowering effect is stronger in those with mild hypertension, and in certain ethnic groups (such as African-Americans).
  • A low-sodium DASH diet may have even greater effects on blood pressure.
  • The DASH diet seems to be as effective as some medications at lowering blood pressure in people with mild hypertension. (Important, if you’re taking medication, don’t stop;  just let your doctor know you have started this eating plan on your next visit.)

Researchers estimate that if everyone followed the DASH diet, heart disease cases would be reduced by 15 percent and stroke by 27 percent nationwide. That translates into 225,000 fewer heart attacks and 100,000 fewer strokes every year!

Following the DASH Diet

The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, fish, poultry and beans. It also contains less salt and sodium. Best of all, the plan is based on normal, easy-to-find foods and simple recipes. It is based on a certain number of daily servings from various food groups—for example, 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy foods and 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. These are amounts similar to national guidelines and what we should be eating anyway—even if we don’t have high blood pressure!

It is not clear which component(s) of the DASH eating plan is responsible for its blood pressure-lowering effect. The diet is high in calcium, potassium and magnesium, as well as fiber and protein, all of which are associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure and stroke. However, when these components are studied individually the effect is not nearly as great. The benefit from the DASH diet likely comes from the combined effect of these nutrients, other healthful components in the foods, and from consistently following a balanced diet based on all five food groups.