Your risk of high blood pressure increases as you get older. But simple dietary changes can help maintain healthy blood pressure and prevent related health problems that occur when blood pressure gets too high.
Your blood pressure is usually recorded as two numbers, for example 120/80. The upper number, or systolic pressure, measures the force in your blood vessels when your heart contracts. The lower number, or diastolic pressure, represents the force while your heart rests between beats. Though both pressures may fluctuate, pressures should normally stay below 120/80. Accurate readings on several occasions of 140/90 or higher mean that you have high blood pressure (hypertension).
Hypertension is a risk factor for many serious conditions, like coronary heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Fortunately, certain dietary steps may ward off many of these complications.
In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published the results of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study. DASH researchers found that adults can reduce their blood pressure by eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. Study results showed that the DASH diet works as effectively as some blood pressure medicines. Today, the NIH recommends the DASH diet for adults of all ages who want to reduce blood pressure. It may even lower pressure some in those with normal blood pressure.
For a person who eats 2,000 kilocalories a day, the DASH diet calls for:
- Grains: 6-8 servings each day
- Vegetables: 4-5 servings each day
- Fruits: 4-5 servings each day
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: 2-3 servings each day
- Meats, poultry, eggs, and fish: no more than 6 servings each day
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4-5 servings each week
- Fats and oils: 2-3 servings each day
- Sweets: no more than 5 servings a week
Results from the second phase of the DASH study completed in 2000 (called DASH-Sodium) indicate that cutting salt intake is another effective way to lower blood pressure. After 14 weeks of monitoring 412 adults on six different diets, researchers found that those who consumed a DASH diet with only 1,150 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day had the biggest improvement in their blood pressures.
On this diet, people with and without hypertension had significant reductions in blood pressure. Those with hypertension saw their blood pressures drop even more. The researchers concluded that eating less salt may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure as you grow older.
Chronic kidney disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2012.
DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated August 26, 2011. Accessed May 14, 2012.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2012.
Lin PH, Aickin M, Champagne C, et al. Food group sources of nutrients in the dietary patterns of the DASH-Sodium trial. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103(4):488-496.
Prevention of stroke. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated April 27, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2012.
Last reviewed May 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
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