Related Topics: blood pressure, Features, strokes

DASH Diet for Heart Health

A healthy diet helps reduce weight, and reduce your risk for high blood pressure and associated conditions.

AnnA Rushton

How does it help?

The DASH Diet can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which is good for your heart. In fact, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, the DASH Diet is worth a look. It may help you lose weight because it’s a healthier way of eating. You won’t feel deprived. You’ll have lots of vegetables, fruit, and low-fat dairy products while cutting back on fats, cholesterol, and sweets.

Here are the key elements you need to consider when starting the DASh Diet.

Reduce salt

Too much salt causes fluids to build up in your body. This puts extra pressure on your heart.

On DASH, you’ll lower your sodium to either 2,300 or 1,500 milligrams a day, depending on your health, age, race, and any medical conditions.

You can cut back by choosing low- or no-sodium foods and condiments,  reduce foods that are cured, smoked, or pickled and definitely limit processed foods as they’re often high in sodium.

Grains are good

Eating whole grains like whole wheat breads, brown rice, whole grain cereals, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and popcorn is a good way to get fibre.

Some fibre helps lower your cholesterol and also keeps you feeling full longer. For a diet of 2,000 calories per day: Eat six to eight servings a day.

One serving is a slice of bread, 1 ounce of dry cereal, or ½ cup of cooked whole wheat pasta, rice, or oatmeal.

Load up with vegetables

Vegetables give you fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They don’t have a lot of calories or fat — a good recipe for controlling blood pressure.

Have four to five servings of vegetables a day. That’s 1/2 cup of cooked or raw vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice for each serving.

Not a big vegetable eater? Start by adding a salad at lunch and dinner.

Don’t forget fruit

Fruit offer lots of fibre and vitamins that are good for your heart. Many also have potassium and magnesium, which help lower blood pressure.

Eat four to five servings of fruit every day and one serving is a medium apple or orange, or 1/2 cup of frozen, fresh, or canned fruit.

One-half cup of fruit juice or 1/4 cup of dried fruit also counts as a serving. Try adding bananas or berries to your breakfast cereal or have fruit for dessert, but remember they can be high in sugar so watch the calories.

Yogurt

Low- and no-fat dairy foods are good sources of calcium and protein, which can help maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Try to get three servings of dairy every day and choose skim or 1% milk and low- or no-fat cheeses and yogurt.

Frozen low-fat yogurt is OK, too. One serving equals 1 cup of yogurt or milk, or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese — about the size of three dice.

Lean meat and fish

You can still eat meat but just make sure it’s lean. Meat is a good sources of protein and magnesium.

Skinless chicken and fish are also on the menu and a serving is 1 ounce of cooked meat, fish, or poultry, or one egg.

A good rule is to have no more than 3 ounces of meat at a meal — the size of a mobile phone.

 Nuts and legumes

Nuts, legumes, and seeds are rich in magnesium, protein, and fibre. Walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower your risk of heart disease.

Enjoy as many as five servings of these foods each week. That’s 1/3 cup of nuts, 2 tablespoons of seeds, or a 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans or peas in each serving.

Grab a handful of seeds or nuts as a snack or add beans to your salads or soups, but again remember if trying to lose weight you may want to limit your nut intake as they contained saturated fats and can increase your calorie intake.

Cut down on fats and oils

Eating too many fats can cause high cholesterol and heart disease. With DASH, you’ll limit fats and oils to two to three servings a day.

A serving is 1 teaspoon of margarine or vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons of low-fat salad dressing.

When cooking, use vegetable oils like olive or canola instead of butter or use an  olive oil spray to reduce the amount used..

Sweets and desserts

You don’t have to skip all sweets but choose sweets that are low in fat and if you are a chocolate fan go for the highest rating for the most health benefit, but at least 70% cocoa solids.

Instead of high-fat desserts, try having fresh fruit over low-fat ice cream.

Potassium

This essential mineral is another important part of the DASH diet. Getting enough of it may help lower your blood pressure.

It’s best to get potassium from food instead of supplements and aim for 4,700 milligrams (mg) a day. Try these potassium-rich foods:

  • Potato: 610 mg
  • Sweet potato: 542 mg
  • Banana: 422 mg
  • Avocado (1/2): 487 mg
  • Cooked spinach (1/2 cup): 419 mg

 Getting started  

DASH isn’t hard to follow, but you’ll have to make some changes. Start by keeping a food diary for a few days and see how your diet stacks up.

Then start making changes and aim for around 2,000 calories a day. It may vary depending on your body and how active you are. Ask your doctor for advice if not sure.

 Helpful information: 

At menopause women do have a higher risk for heart disease and strokes, and a healthy diet and good hormone balance will do a lot to reduce that risk.

Getting blood pressure checked regularly, and watching your diet, are both important tools in reducing menopause health risks.

Surprising Things That Raise Your Blood Pressure

What High Blood Pressure Can Do to Your Body

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