Nutrition Column – Do the Dash Diet for Your Blood Pressure

It’s National High Blood Pressure Month, and a good time to take action to find out what your blood pressure numbers are, what they mean and what you need to do to prevent or control this all-too-common condition.

One in four Americans has what’s clinically defined as high blood pressure, (140 over 90). Another 25 percent have cause for concern with systolic readings between 130 and 139 and/or diastolic readings between 80 and 89. As we age, our blood pressure tends to creep up. Thus, it should come as no surprise that heart disease and stroke are two of the top three killers in the United States.

The good news is that high blood pressure can be treated and often delayed or prevented through medication and lifestyle changes. The best solution is to prevent high blood pressure before it occurs. Although your genes are an important determinant of your risk of developing high blood pressure, all of us, regardless of our race, age, sex or heredity, can help lower our chance of developing high blood pressure.  

Now, during High Blood Pressure month, is a good time to resolve to make those changes in your eating habits and lifestyle that will help lower your risk of becoming a heart patient statistic. These changes include:

– Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, even small amounts of weight loss can make a big difference in helping reduce and prevent high blood pressure.  

– Be more physically active. Physical activity helps both with losing weight and in lowering other risk factors associated with heart disease, such as blood cholesterol levels. Again, you don’t have to become a marathon runner to see an effect. Even light activities, if done daily, can help lower your risk of heart disease.

– If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and lead to chronic high blood pressure. While there’s evidence that some alcohol, especially red wine, may be good for your heart health, more alcohol is not good for you. For overall health, the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" recommended that men limit their alcohol intake to no more than two drinks a day and women to no more than one drink a day.

– Do the DASH – a diet, that is. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Clinical studies have shown the DASH diet to be quite helpful in reducing blood pressure. The DASH diet looks very similar to a low-fat version of the Food Guide Pyramid in which low fat or fat free dairy products and lean meats are recommended. The main difference is that recommended servings of fruits and vegetables are increased to eight to 10 servings daily over the five to eight listed in the Food Guide Pyramid. In addition, four to five servings of nuts, seeds and dry beans are recommended weekly as rich sources of magnesium, potassium and fiber. The high levels of calcium, magnesium and potassium in the DASH diet are thought to be at least partially responsible for the results seen with the DASH diet.

Though the DASH diet is specifically recommended for persons with high or near high blood pressure, it’s a healthful diet for all adult Americans. One note, though: If you have high blood pressure and take medication, you should not stop your therapy. Rather, use the DASH diet and talk to your doctor about your high blood pressure treatment plan. Single copies of the DASH diet are available free from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s Information Center, PO Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 200824-0105. Ask for fact sheet 03-4082. The DASH Web site is

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension