The DASH diet is a valuable ally in managing blood pressure by focusing on a high intake of fruits and vegetables and by leaving behind saturated fats and cholesterol. Learn more about it.
Hypertension or high blood pressure, is a condition during which the blood vessels undergo permanent high arterial pressure (AP), which can cause damage. Most people who suffer from high blood pressure experience no symptoms at all. This is why it is sometimes referred to as the "silent killer". The higher the AP, the higher the risk of damage to the heart and blood vessels supplying essential organs such as the brain and the kidneys.
Hypertension is the primary preventable cause of cardiovascular disease in the world. The consequences of hypertension on health can be worsened by other factors which increase the risks of heart attack, cerebrovascular accident, and kidney failure. These factors primarily include smoking, poor diet, overconsumption of alcohol, sedentariness, stress, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes.
A number of strategies can be implemented to manage the AP of a person with hypertension. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is among them.
Developed in the 1990s, the DASH diet puts the emphasis on making changes to eating habits to reduce AP. Inspired by vegetarianism, it is based on the consumption of:
- fresh fruits (from 4 to 6 servings/day)
- fresh vegetables (from 3 to 6 servings/day)
- whole grain products (from 6 to 11 servings/day)
- nuts, grains and legumes (from three times/week to once a day)
- low-fat milk products (from 2 to 3 servings/day), and
- lean meats, fish or poultry (from 1 to 2 servings/day)
On the other hand, the DASH diet involves reducing the consumption of:
- red meat
- saturated fats and cholesterol
- sweets, and
- salt (from 2/3 to 1 teaspoon of salt/day)
Daily calorie intake
The DASH diet includes three levels of energy intake:
- 1600 calories/day: women who wish to lose weight and reduce their AP
- 2000 calories/day: women who wish to reduce their AP or men who wish to lose weight and reduce their AP, and
- 2600 calories/day: men who wish to reduce their AP.
The notion of serving size
The number of servings varies depending on the diet chosen. However, it is important to remember that a serving is very far from the quantity of food usually served in a restaurant!
For instance, a serving represents:
- 1 medium-sized fruit, 180 ml of juice, ½ cup of frozen fruit, ¼ cup of dried fruit
- ½ cup of vegetables, 1 cup of lettuce
- 1 slice of bread, ½ cup of pasta, rice or cereal
- 1 cup of milk, ¾ cup of yogurt, 50 g of cheese
- 90 g of meat, fish or poultry, 1 egg
- ½ cup of legumes, 1/3 cup of nuts
- 1 teaspoon of margarine or oil, 1 tablespoon of salad dressing or mayonnaise.
The benefits of the DASH diet
It has been shown that the DASH diet:
- reduces AP
- promotes weight loss
- decreases levels of bad cholesterol (LDL)
These effects can result in a decrease of 8 to 14 mm of mercury for systolic pressure in people with high blood pressure. In terms of AP management, the benefits of the DASH diet are similar to those of a medication taken as monotherapy.
The DASH diet is recommended by the Canadian Hypertension Education Program as a nonpharmacological means of managing AP. Don't hesitate to consult a nutritionist to check it is appropriate for you.
Introducing the DASH diet
Here is some advice on how to introduce the DASH diet into your everyday routine:
- Add a serving of fruits and vegetables for lunch during a few days.
- Gradually add another serving of fruits and vegetables for supper.
- Gradually increase the number of servings to reach your target.
- Eat fruit or low-fat foods as a dessert or snack.
- Consider meat as part of your meal and not as the main component.
- Read the Nutrition Facts table on food packages.
- Choose foods that are low in cholesterol, saturated fats, and salt.
- Limit your consumption of industrially processed foods.
- Use spices instead of salt to enhance the flavour of your food.
Think of adopting the DASH diet as a long-term process. There will be ups and downs, but ultimately, you will be delighted to have chosen the road to health!
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about hypertension and the ways of managing it or about choosing healthy habits.