High Blood Pressure: Using the DASH Diet
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DASH is an eating plan that can help lower your blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension is high blood pressure.
The DASH eating plan focuses on foods that are high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These nutrients can lower blood pressure. The foods that are highest in these nutrients are fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and beans. Taking calcium, potassium, and magnesium supplements instead of eating these foods does not have the same effect.
The DASH eating plan is one of several lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend. Your doctor may also want you to decrease the amount of salt you eat. Lowering salt while following the DASH plan can lower blood pressure even further than just the DASH plan alone.
For more information on nutrition for high blood pressure, see:
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Taking calcium, potassium, and magnesium supplements will lower my blood pressure just as well as the DASH plan will.
Fat-free milk is an important part of the DASH plan.
Not eating enough potassium, calcium, and magnesium may help cause high blood pressure. These nutrients come from fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
Researchers believe that it is the combination of 8 to 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables and 3 servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy products that causes the DASH eating plan to lower blood pressure. Simply taking calcium, potassium, and magnesium supplements does not lower blood pressure.
Test Your Knowledge
A balanced, low-fat eating plan that contains 8 to 10 servings each day of fresh fruits and vegetables and 3 servings each day of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods will help me lower my high blood pressure.
You'll have more success in changing your eating habits if you make a plan. The plan should include long-term and short-term goals as well as ideas for getting past barriers—things that might get in the way of changing your eating habits.
What is your long-term goal? A long-term goal is something you want to reach in 6 to 12 months. When you have high blood pressure, the long-term goal is to lower your blood pressure to a specific level. Talk to your doctor about what your specific long-term goal should be.
What are the short-term goals that will help you reach your long-term goal? Short-term goals keep you going day to day. They are usually goals you hope to reach tomorrow or next week.
Look at the DASH eating plan. Come up with a short-term goal that looks pretty easy. For example, you might decide that your first short-term goal will be to eat 4 servings of vegetables every day. As soon as you've made those extra vegetables a habit, you can add another short-term goal.
Eating with DASH
Here are some ideas for eating with the DASH plan:
Get more tips in the topic Quick Tips: Adding Fruits and Vegetables to Your Diet.
Many people find that it helps to write down everything they eat every day. That way they can easily see how much of each food group they've eaten and where they need to add or cut back tomorrow.
A registered dietitian can work with you to change your eating habits and help you plan menus that follow the DASH eating style. Ask your doctor to recommend someone. See a sample DASH menu.
For more help on starting a new healthy eating plan, see:
Dealing with barriers and slip-ups
Take the time to think about what things could get in the way of your success. These are called barriers. And by thinking about them now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen.
An example of a barrier might be eating in restaurants. If you do that a lot, you may want to plan ahead for how you will stay on your DASH plan when you eat out. Possible solutions could include:
It’s perfectly normal to try something, stop it, and then get mad at yourself. Lots of people have to try and try again before they reach their goals.
For more help on dealing with barriers, see:
Having a lot of support can make it easier to change your eating habits. For example, if family members tell you that they love how you're getting healthier, you may be motivated to keep up the good work. Here are some other ways to get support:
For more information about getting support, see:
Staying with it
It can be frustrating to start a new project like healthy eating and then have to stop because something gets in the way—illness, travel, or even just boredom. Your goal is to get back in the habit and make it a routine part of your life.
Remember that you can't create a habit overnight. Keep at it, even if you slip up along the way. It can take as long as 3 months of repetition to form a habit, so every day is a step in the right direction.
When you slip up, don't get mad at yourself or feel guilty. Think of it as a learning experience. Figure out what happened. Why did you stop? Think of ways to get yourself going again. Learn from your slip-ups so that you can keep on toward your goal of healthy eating.
For more information on staying with a healthy eating plan, see:
Test Your Knowledge
The best way to deal with barriers is to wait until they happen and then worry about how to get around them.
Now that you have read these tips on following the DASH eating plan, you are ready to change your eating habits to lower your high blood pressure.
For more sample menus and recipes for the DASH eating plan, contact the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
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