DASH diet: Preventing high blood pressure
High blood pressure is more common than you think - around 1 in 3 adults in the UK are affected, causing a higher risk of heart disease, organ damage and stroke. It’s therefore crucial to know how to maintain low blood pressure and look after your health.
One way you can lower your blood pressure is by eating less salt. The NHS states that eating a diet high in salt (or sodium) can contribute to raised blood pressure, which in turn can lead to a heart disease or stroke.
What is the DASH diet?
The standard DASH diet recommends no more than 1 teaspoon (2300mg) of sodium per day. Instead, it encourages foods rich in nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and calcium, as well as those low in saturated and trans fats.
Type of foods that cause high blood pressure
DASH diets are typically low in fat, sugar and salt; foods that are thought to be a cause of high blood pressure.
Salty foods are known to raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease. These include salty meats (such as ham and bacon), anchovies, cheese, olives, pickles and gravy granules or stock cubes.
Consuming high levels of sugar can lead to a build of fatty material in your blood vessels which in turn, can increase blood pressure. Sugary foods to avoid include sweets, chocolate, cakes, pastries and biscuits.
Saturated fats and trans fats
Whilst fat is important, eating too much (particularly saturated and trans fats) will raise your blood cholesterol, leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This is especially dangerous if you have high blood pressure.
What food can you eat on the DASH diet?
The DASH diet is a reasonably flexible eating plan that doesn’t limit any healthy foods. You are free to eat plenty of the following:
Fruit and vegetables (4 to 5 servings per day)
All fruit and vegetables can be eaten on the DASH diet. Examples of a serving include 1 medium banana, ½ cup of fresh orange juice or 1 cup of spinach.
Whole grains (6 to 8 servings per day)
Whole grains include food such as wholewheat or whole grain bread and cereal, brown rice, quinoa and oats. Examples of a serving include 1 slice of wholemeal bread, ½ cup cereal or ½ wholemeal pasta.
Low-fat or fat-free dairy (2 to 3 servings per day)
Low-fat dairy products are allowed on the DASH diet. One serving includes 1 cup of low-fat milk, 1.5 ounces of low fat cheese or 1 cup of yoghurt.
Lean meat and fish (up to 6 servings per day)
Lean cuts of meat, poultry and fish can be eaten on the DASH diet. Try to avoid red meat which is higher in salt and fat. Examples of one serving include 1 egg or 1 ounce of cooked meat.
Fats and oils (2 to 3 servings per day)
Some fats and oils are allowed on the DASH diet such as vegetable oil, mayonnaise or salad dressing. One serving is typically one teaspoon.
Nuts, beans and seeds (4-5 servings per week)
One serving of nuts such as peanuts, hazelnuts and cashews, or beans and seeds are allowed throughout the week. For example, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or ½ cup of lentils.
All other foods including sugar, fizzy drinks and sweet treats should be limited to fewer than 5 servings per week.
Are there risks associated with a DASH diet?
The DASH diet predominantly centres around a limited salt intake. However, some salt in our diet is good as it helps the kidneys regulate the amount of water in our blood. If you are an athlete or healthy individual that has not been advised to limit their salt intake, you should speak to your doctor before making any extreme changes to your diet.
DASH diet meal plan
- 1 slice of wholemeal bread with 1 egg
- ½ cup of Greek yoghurt topped with ½ cup berries and 2 tsp. chia seeds
- 1 slice of peanut butter wholemeal toast
- 1 cup of oatmeal with 1 cup of low-fat milk and ½ cup of berries
- Tossed green chicken salad including ½ cup of avocado, 2 cups of leaves, 1 cup of chopped cucumber, tomatoes and corn and ½ cup of seasoned chicken
- 1 pitta bread with ½ cup of chicken or salmon and salad
- 1 slice of wholemeal bread with ½ cup of avocado, chilli and mixed greens
- 2 slices of whole grain bread sandwich with 1 cup of filling: tuna mayonnaise, chicken and avocado salad, and low-fat cheese and tomato
- 1 roasted sweet potato with 1 cup of filling: turkey mince chilli, chicken and sweetcorn, bean and corn mix
- 1 ½ cups of spiced chicken breast with sweet potato fries, ¼ cup avocado and salad
- 1 serving or lean meat with 1 cup of fried brown rice, and 1 cup of vegetables such as carrots, beans or broccoli
- 1 serving of fish with 1 cup of potatoes and 1.5 cups of vegetables
- 1 medium sized fruit such as a banana or pear
- ½ cup of berries, grapes or nuts and seeds
- 4 whole grain crackers and low-fat cheese
- 1 apple and 1 serving of nut butter
In summary, the DASH diet is a simple to follow eating plan that limits unhealthy fats and salt intake in order to maintain low blood pressure. If you’re concerned about high blood pressure, book an appointment for a blood pressure test at your local LloydsPharmacy store.