DASH diet to control blood pressure

DASH stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension”.  Diet plays a major part in controlling high blood pressure and as an adjunct to medications itself. Antihypertensive become more effective when taken along with a low salt high fiber diet.

Previously, importance was given only to reducing salt intake. But the DASH studies suggested that not only reducing salt, but including foods high in potassium, calcium and magnesium will help reduce high blood pressure.

Accordingly this is what the DASH diet recommends (for a 2000kcal/day diet)

  • Reduce sodium chloride or table salt to 6gms a day. This is equal to a teaspoon of salt added in daily cooking. This also means you have to avoid salted snacks, pickles, canned/processed/packeted/ready to eat foods that contain salt as preservative, bakery items, pappads, fast foods. Since restaurant foods are generally very salty it makes sense to not eat out frequently.
  • The higher the potassium intake, lower the blood pressure. This is where vegans score over non vegetarians. Because all fruits and vegetables without exception contain potassium. You need to eat at least 2 or 3 cups of vegetables cooked or raw and 4 to 5 fruits in a day to get the benefit of this diet. Cereals and legumes, milk/yoghurt also contain potassium.
  • Good intake of magnesium helps keep hypertension under check.  This is easily got in Indian diets from eating whole grains and products, and seeds and nuts.  Tofu, fat free milk, green vegetables and legumes also contain magnesium.  Unsalted nuts in small amounts, up to 2 tablespoon full, make a good snack.

Also read: More on tackling high blood pressure

  • If you are a meat eater consume only lean meat and restrict it to 3 ounces a day. If you can stay completely vegetarian once a week it would help in a big way.
  • Reduce fat intake to about one or 2 tablespoon a day. This means you may need to avoid fried and fatty foods and use minimal oil in seasoning or sautéing foods.  Use mustard, sesame oil, groundnut, sunflower, olive etc. Avoid coconut and palm oils.
  • Cut down on sweets to not more than 5 times a week. This means you avoid them totally two days a week.  This may sound terribly restrictive but the point is not to overeat sweets just because they are sweet and not salty.  Most Indian sweets are high in fats and provide a lot of calories both of which are detrimental to your heart.
  • DASH diet also recommends restricting alcohol intake to 2 or less drinks for men and one or lesser for women.

Since the recommendations are given for 2000kcal /day diet, those on reduced calorie diet will need lesser servings of the above. Salt intake too will need to be reduced to 3 gms a day.

The goodness of the DASH diet is that it emphasises on antioxidants thus creating a diet plan that is protective against cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Image: Flickr creativecommons identity photography

Parvathy R Krishnan
Parvathy R Krishnan, a Nutrition & Dietetics expert, is a member of Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India. Parvathy blogs at http://premadiet.blogspot.in/

More articles by this author:
The importance of carbohydrates to the diabetic
How to reduce cholesterol in the Indian diet

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