If your blood pressure is higher than you or your doctor would like, you may be pleased to know how you can help make things better. The DASH diet is a well-researched way to improve your health and your blood pressure. It emphasizes:
*fruits and vegetables
*fat free or low fat milk or yogurt
*whole grains – brown rice, whole wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, quinoa
*lean meat, poultry or fish
*nuts, seeds and beans
*small amounts of oil or soft (non-hydrogenated) margarine.
*Sweets, soft drinks and added sugars should be very low in this diet.
*Salt and salty foods (read labels!) should be minimized to make the diet effective - try to lower your sodium intake to 1500 milligrams per day. 2/3 teaspoon of salt =1500 mg.
* alcohol can increase blood pressure: men should not drink more than 2 drinks a day, women not more than one.
The potassium found in fruits and vegetables and the calcium in dairy products or fortified soy milk are important in this diet. People have found that their blood pressure begins to decline within the first two weeks of adherence. Remember that celery is effective for lowering blood pressure, and pomegranate juice has also been found helpful. According to researchers at the U. of Maryland, if you already take medication to lower blood pressure, pomegranate juice or extract could make the effects of those drugs too strong, so check with your doctor. You may be able to reduce your dose of medications.
To make the DASH Diet work for you, details and plans for daily meals and snacks are needed. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a good explanatory website:
Alternatively, search your local library for the DASH diet; they will probably carry books on the subject. Amazon has several books: ‘The DASH Diet Action Plan: Based on the National Institutes of Health Research’ by Marla Heller, or ‘Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH’.
While you explore the DASH Diet, you should know about other approaches that have been shown to lower blood pressure:
*30 minutes of brisk walking daily may keep some people off of medication, and lower the dose for others. Two walks of 15 minutes are also good. Get a pal; make it fun; contact the trees and birds. Biking, swimming and other sustained aerobic exercise will also work.
*weight loss: the Dash Diet and exercise will help with this. Every 2 pounds lost can bring down blood pressure 1 point. After a year of gradual weight loss,, your blood pressure might be normal.
*transcendental meditation has been studied at the University of Kentucky and found to be the most effective relaxation method for lowering blood pressure: http://www.tm.org/national-institutes-of-health. This method of meditation is now non-religious and easy to learn.
*Resperate: this device has been studied at Rush University and the Mayo Clinic, and found helpful in guiding users into deep slow breathing that lowers blood pressure. It should be used 15 minutes 3-4 times a week, and will only be effective as long as it is used. The price is $300, but it can be tried for a month for $25. www.resperate.com or call 877-988-9388.
One in 3 adults in the US have high blood pressure. It is important to pay attention to this problem, in order to avoid having a stroke, heart attack or heart failure. Use a home blood pressure cuff, and work with your doctor and nurse-practitioner to get normal readings!
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH