You’ve probably heard this before, but there’s no getting around it: What you eat can have a major effect on your blood pressure, for worse or for better. In fact, research shows that healthy eating — we’ll get to what that means in a minute — can lower your blood pressure and keep it there.
One of the best-known eating plans to fight blood pressure is DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and tested on thousands of people with hypertension, DASH has been shown to help bring blood pressure down to healthy levels.
The basics of the plan are exactly that — basic, and similar to what you’ll see in other heart-healthy eating plans such as the Mediterranean diet. DASH uses lots of whole grains (seven to eight servings a day); lots of fruits and vegetables (four to five servings a day, each); moderate amounts of nuts, seeds, legumes and low-fat or nonfat dairy; and small amounts (three ounces daily, maximum) of lean meat, poultry and fish. DASH is lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium than the typical American diet, and higher in potassium, calcium and magnesium — nutrients that protect against hypertension.
You can find more information on DASH as well as sample recipes here. And you can make your diet more blood-pressure friendly, starting today, with these easy steps:
Revive your taste buds. Put yourself on course to discovering what foods really taste like. First, cover up a few holes on the saltshaker for a week. The next week, stick it in a cabinet and avoid salty foods as much as possible. Stick with this for six to eight weeks and you’ll probably find you no longer crave or even like the taste of salt, and you’re enjoying flavors you never knew existed.
Number 1: Halt the Salt
Or at least cut back. If you do only one good thing for your blood pressure, you should consume less sodium (a main ingredient of salt), says Steven Nissen, MD, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
Here’s why: If your blood pressure is high or rising, you’re probably salt-sensitive. That means your body does not process sodium well. Eating too much throws off the complex interlocking mechanisms that regulate your blood pressure and blood volume, which leads to a slew of problems: your kidneys retain fluid, your blood pressure and blood volume increase, and your blood vessels can get damaged in ways that contribute to chronic hypertension.
Eat less salt and your blood pressure may fall — fast, too. A study in Hypertension found that switching people with resistant hypertension (the kind that doesn’t respond to drugs) from a high-salt diet to one low in salt brought their blood pressure down an average of nearly 23 points in just a week.
Health experts recommend that you eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily — the equivalent of ¾ teaspoon of salt — if you have high blood pressure or pre-hypertension. If you don’t, limit yourself to 2,300 mg. On average, American men consume 3,100 to 4,700 mg of sodium a day, while women consume 2,300 to 3,100 mg.