Today I continue my occasional series of articles which compares and contrasts lifestyles and eating patterns which promote good health.  This one is a bit different as it isn’t an eating pattern typically found in a region somewhere in the world, it is about a way of eating developed by the US National Institutes of Health to reduce blood pressure without the use of medication.

Blood pressure (BP) is one of those markers your doctor uses to assess your risk of heart disease and stroke.  Do you know what your BP is?  Is it too high? Do you want to lower it?  Then try following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.  Now, when I talk about diet I just mean everything you eat and drink, not necessarily a weight loss eating pattern.  But to avoid confusion I’ll talk about the DASH way of eating.

The DASH way of eating has been proven to reduce BP within 2 to 4 weeks – Wow! –  by 6 mmHg systolic (the first number of your BP) and 3 mmHg diastolic (the second number of your BP).  This change is maintained over time without medication while you eat the DASH way. The effect is greater for people who have high BP (think hypertension here) rather than normal BP.

What does the DASH way of eating involve?

It focuses on eating:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • low fat dairy products
  • whole grains
  • fish, poultry
  • nuts and seeds

And limits:

  • red meat
  • lollies and sugar sweetened drinks (think soft drinks and fruit juices).

The changes in nutrition result in a reduction of sodium (salt) and an increase in potassium, calcium and magnesium compared with a typical Australian diet.

While there are strong similarities between the DASH way of eating and the Mediterranean eating pattern (I talked about eating the Mediterranean way last week – see here), DASH eating doesn’t focus on olive oil and fish and doesn’t include wine.

DASH eating also definitely excludes adding salt in cooking and at the table.

Want to know more about blood pressure?  Read on…

What is normal when it comes to BP?

A BP reading under 120/80mmHg is considered ideal while over 120/80mmHg and up to 139/89mmHg are in the normal to high normal range. BP over 140/90mmHg is generally considered to be high.

Your BP naturally increases and decreases depending on what you are doing and your body’s needs. High BP is when your BP is persistently higher than normal – it’s medical term is hypertension.  As you get older it is more likely to increase.

So why is it good to lower your BP?

The higher your BP then the higher your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease and dementia so lower BP is better if it’s too high.

How can I improve my BP besides following the DASH way of eating?

There’s lots of reasons why your BP might be high and a number of ways how you may lower it, including:

  • your family history – you can’t pick your relatives – this is one you can’t change!
  • your eating patterns – get some nutrition advice
  • your alcohol intake – cut out or reduce alcohol significantly
  • your weight – if you are overweight managing your weight can reduce your BP
  • and how much physical activity you do (or don’t do!) – increasing physical activity usually lowers BP but some activities aren’t advised as they can cause short term high BP – ask your doctor for clearance to exercise and see an exercise physiologist for advice about what exercises are best for you.
  • some medicines can also raise BP – ask your pharmacist if anything you are taking may be increasing your BP – perhaps there’s an alternative which won’t affect it.

Is it all gloom and doom if you have high BP?

NO!  You can change your lifestyle to improve your blood pressure.  Get some advice about what exercise you can do and talk to me about eating healthy.

Eat well!  Keep well!

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Post byDale Cooke

I'm a nutritionist, dietitian and personal trainer with 29 years of experience helping people improve their health. I really like using a non-diet philosophy to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Can I help you improve your health?