Did you know that over six million Canadians, or one in five, suffer from high blood pressure? If you're in this group then you're not alone. But what you may not know is that you don't have to take pills to help you reduce your blood pressure.
The DASH diet is a great alternative to reduce your high blood pressure naturally. Don't worry if you're not sure what that is or how to start incorporating it into your life because we've got you covered. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about tackling your blood pressure naturally.
History of the Dash Diet
The DASH diet was first studied in the 1990s by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. This is a part of the American National Institutes of Health and the NIH has been promoting the DASH diet as the best way to lower blood pressure for the past three decades.
Scientists wanted to prove they could lower blood pressure in individuals without medication and without limiting sodium. Sodium has long been the culprit when it comes to the blame for hypertension. However, the DASH diet proves that you can lower blood pressure without tracking your salt intake.
What Is the DASH Diet?
So, what is the DASH diet and how can it help you? Let's dive into that now. The DASH diet is simply a guideline to help individuals focus on the foods they should eat and which ones they should avoid. Outside of that, you don't have to track sodium or caloric intake making it popular among many people who've failed other restrictive diets.
The DASH diet focuses on creating meal plans that focus on healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, healthy starches and grains, protein, and good fats. It also calls for eliminating empty calories from sugars, processed foods, pre-packaged snacks, as well as alcohol.
What Does DASH Diet Stand For?
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. As the name suggests, the primary focus for the DASH diet is to create a dietary focus on lowering blood pressure through your diet rather than pills. Additionally, it also doesn't require participants to track sodium intake or limit carbohydrates as many other diets do.
Who Can the DASH Diet Help?
The DASH diet is geared towards people who want to lower their blood pressure through lifestyle changes rather than using pills. If you need to tackle hypertension by changing what you eat and adding exercise then DASH is for you. As you'll see in the benefits section below the DASH diet focuses on adding in healthy foods while eliminating those that are bad for you.
Scientists and nutritionists created the DASH diet for those people who want to treat or prevent hypertension which leads to heart disease. So, if you have a family history of hypertension, obesity, heart disease, or diabetes then you can benefit from the DASH diet.
As you can see, people everywhere can benefit from a healthier lifestyle with the DASH diet.
What Are the Health Benefits of the DASH Diet?
High blood pressure isn't the only health benefit that people will see when they use the DASH diet. While weight loss isn't the focus of the DASH diet, many people naturally see their weight decrease due to eating healthier foods. Your food choices directly affect your health and you will see benefits across the board including helping with diabetes and your heart health.
May Aid in Weight Loss
Due to cutting out sugary foods and drinks, as well as adding in healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains many people see an added benefit of losing weight while on the DASH diet.
Traditionally, if you wanted to lose weight you would need to count and track your caloric intake. However, with the DASH diet, the focus is on making better choices and eating healthier foods. This naturally is better than our normal everyday consumption.
Can Lower Blood Pressure
Obviously, the original focus on creating the DASH diet was to help individuals lower their blood pressure naturally. Scientists are learning more and more about blood pressure and how it affects our overall health. And, since the DASH diet focuses on natural changes to your diet without harsh restrictions, many people find they can maintain the DASH for the long term.
There are two terms you need to know when it comes to improving your blood pressure, your systolic pressure and your diastolic pressure. Both are important as well as keeping the difference between them within an ideal range.
Your systolic pressure is the top number in your blood pressure. It measures the pressure that is put on your artery walls each time your heart beats. Doctors get concerned when this number gets over 110 mm Hg (millimetres of Mercury).
Your diastolic pressure is the bottom number in your blood pressure. It measures the pressure put on your artery walls in between each heartbeat. Your doctor will watch that this number stays between 60 and 90 mm Hg. You also want to ensure that your diastolic pressure is within 40 mm Hg of your systolic pressure as this also affects your artery walls.
Decreases Risk Of Cancer
For many people, the lifestyle changes that you make with the DASH diet mean your health benefits can carry on well past lowering your blood pressure. Unfortunately, the typical Canadian diet of sugary, processed foods and not enough fibre has contributed to the rise in cancer. The DASH diet helps combat this by focusing on increasing your fibre and decreasing your sugar intake.
Decreases Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
The term metabolic syndrome is a group of five symptoms all of which can adversely affect your health. These five conditions include:
- High blood pressure
- Low good cholesterol
- Increased levels of bad cholesterol
- High blood sugar
- Obesity or large waist circumference
If you have any of these symptoms or have a family history of them, then you can greatly benefit from adopting the DASH diet.
Decreases Risk of Diabetes
High blood sugar can lead to many other health problems such as hypertension, kidney disease, heart disease, and neuropathy. To combat these problems and avoid them completely you need to change your diet and lifestyle. The healthy food choices encouraged with the DASH diet does just that.
Decreases Risk of Heart Disease
Studies have shown that a healthy diet can reduce your chances of developing heart disease by half. Many people choose to adopt the DASH diet to help decrease their risk of developing heart problems as they age.
Foods to Eat
Too many diets choose to restrict your calories rather than encourage you to make better choices. The DASH diet changes all that. Instead, you're encouraged to choose healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods.
You do still need a net caloric deficit each day, meaning you need to burn off more calories than you consume. To do this, be sure to add exercise to your daily habits so you can still eat enough foods to give you energy while also losing weight.
Recommended Servings for the DASH Diet
For many of us, the problem isn't knowing what we should eat, it's that our portions are out of control. As you read through this next section pay attention to the sizes of each serving. You're sure to be surprised at how much more than the recommended amount you're probably eating each day.
You are recommended to eat between six and eight servings a day of whole grains each day. This includes choosing whole wheat bread over white as well as long-grain brown rice over white. One serving is equal to one slice of bread, one ounce of dry cereal, or half a cup of cooked rice.
Fruits are great for you, but again moderation is key as they do have sugar naturally in them. You are recommended at least four to five servings of fruits each day. One serving includes one medium-sized fruit or half a cup of frozen or canned fruit.
Vegetables are also recommended that you eat four to five servings each day. One serving is half a cup of cooked or raw vegetables or half a cup of vegetable juice. Be careful with vegetable juice as most contain very large amounts of sodium.
Fat-Free or Low-Fat Dairy Products
Dairy is an important part of getting enough protein and calcium each day. You are recommended to eat two to three servings each day. One serving is equal to one cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese.
Lean Meats, Poultry, and Fish
You are recommended to eat six servings of protein each day. However, remember that a serving is only one ounce of cooked meat and most of us eat much larger portions than that.
Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes
Nuts and seeds are fantastic sources of protein, healthy fats, and fibre. You're recommended to eat four to five servings every day. One serving is a third of a cup of nuts, two tablespoons of seeds or peanut butter, or half a cup of cooked beans or peas.
Fats and Oils
Fats and oils are an important part of your diet as long as they're in moderation. You're recommended to eat only two to three servings each day. One serving is a mere teaspoon of butter or oil or one tablespoon of salad dressing.
Sweets and Added Sugars
Sample Menu for the DASH Diet
Experts agree that the average adult should consume around 2,000 calories each day. To do that and stay within the DASH diet suggestions, we've created a sample menu you can follow.
- 2 slices of whole-wheat toast with one tablespoon of jelly or jam (2 out of 6 servings of grains, 1/1 serving of sweets, and 100 calories)
- 1 hard-boiled egg (1 out of 6 servings of protein and 75 calories)
- 1 medium-sized piece of fruit (1 out of 5 servings of fruit and 100-300 calories depending on the fruit)
- Half a sandwich on one slice of whole wheat bread with one slice of cheese and one ounce of meat (1 serving of grains, one serving of dairy, one serving of protein, and 160 calories)
- 1 medium-sized fruit
- Small salad with a half cup of kale and a half cup of sliced vegetables with oil and vinegar for dressing (2 out of five servings of vegetables and 15 calories)
- 3 ounces of lean protein such as fish or chicken (3 servings protein and 200 calories)
- 1 small baked potato or one cup of whole-grain rice (two servings of grain and starches with 200 calories)
- Half a cup of steamed broccoli and half a cup of carrots (2 servings of vegetables with 100 calories)
- 1/4 cup of mixed nuts (1 serving of nuts and 200 calories)
- 1 cup of yogurt (1 serving of dairy with 100 calories)
- Popcorn (1 serving grains with 100 calories when air-popped without butter)
- Smoothie with one medium banana, 1/2 cup of frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup of kale (2 servings fruit, 1 serving of vegetable, and 300 calories)
When you eat everything listed above, you not only stick to the DASH diet perfectly but you also consume close to the 2,000 calories recommendation each day.
Eating Out on the DASH Diet
When you know that you're going out to eat it can be helpful to follow a few tips. We recommend you:
- Check the menu ahead of time and plan what to order
- Ask for dressing on the side or just use oil and vinegar
- Choose water instead of sugary drinks
- Ask to be served only half the dish and that the rest be packaged to go
When you follow these simple tips you can still enjoy heading out to eat with friends while also reaping the many benefits of the DASH diet.
Risks of the DASH Diet
Just as with any diet, incorporating DASH into your daily lifestyle will take some work and comes with risks, or setbacks. Knowing what these are will help you combat them as they come up for you.
Restricting Too Much Salt
Salt in itself isn't bad for your body. In fact, you need about 1500mg of sodium each day to maintain the proper balance between fluid and electrolytes in your body. Additionally, salt helps your nerves and muscles function properly.
The problem is that the average adult takes in three to five times the recommended amount. So, while cutting back your salt is important, remember you're not trying to cut it out completely.
Gas and Bloating
One of the biggest complaints about starting the DASH diet is painful gas and bloating. This is because of its high emphasis on vegetables and fibre. If you haven't been eating much of these in the past, start adding them slowly to avoid uncomfortableness in your digestive system.
Hard to Maintain
Many people find that it's hard to maintain the DASH diet over the long term. One of the great benefits of this diet is that you don't have to count, track, or limit your intake. However, you are limited in what you can eat and this can be hard especially when you go out to eat.
Incorporate the DASH Diet Into Your Lifestyle to Reap the Benefits
This article on the DASH diet isn't intended to be used as medical advice. If you need more medical attention we encourage you to speak with a physician or registered dietician.
However, we can give you more advice on how a healthier lifestyle can save you money on health and life insurance. You can find out more here.