There is a 90 percent chance that a middle-aged American will develop high blood pressure during their life. However, research has shown that following the DASH diet plan will decrease blood pressure in as little as two weeks.
The DASH diet includes foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables and fat-free milk and milk products. The plan also recommends a healthy amount of whole grain foods, fish, poultry and nuts.
The first line of defense for high blood pressure, both before and after it is diagnosed, is making lifestyle changes. Changes that have a positive impact on blood pressure are not smoking, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing sodium in the diet, adopting the DASH eating plan and being physically active.
Overweight persons have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. Losing weight can help decrease systolic (top number) blood pressure.
DASH is short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH eating plan is a diet that is abundant in fruits and vegetables, includes low-fat dairy products and is low in saturated fat and total fat. The DASH plan helps to lower systolic blood pressure quickly. Some people see a difference in as little as two weeks.
Eating too much sodium or salt can also contribute to high blood pressure. Sodium impacts blood pressure when the kidneys fail to get rid of the extra sodium.
All people should consume 2,400 milligrams (mg) or less per day which is about one teaspoon.
The problem is that the salt shaker is not the only place to find sodium. Canned and frozen foods can be especially high.
A DASH plan booklet is available at nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.
For more information on nutrition, visit extension.missouri.edu.