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DASH Your Way To Healthier Blood Pressure


By Johanna Hicks

You might have heard about the DASH eating plan. It’s more than just a seasoning. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan is part of a healthy lifestyle that focuses on incorporating foods that help lower high blood pressure and physical activity into your daily routine. The DASH eating plan does not intend to treat hypertension, but following some lifestyle modifications has been shown to lower blood pressure for individuals. If you are under the care of a physician due to hypertension, follow their advice.

The National Institutes of Health define blood pressure in three areas:

  • Normal
  • Pre-hypertension
  • Hypertension (stage 1 or 2)

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers: Systolic is the maximum number of the reading and measures the tension in your blood vessels when your heart beats. Diastolic is the bottom number which measures the pressure in your blood vessels when the heart rests.

Normal blood pressure is a systolic reading of 120 or less and a diastolic number of less than 80. So, if your blood pressure is less than 120 over 80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury), you have normal blood pressure. Pre-hypertension readings are between 120-139 over 80-89. Your doctor might tell you to change the foods you eat and be more active.

Hypertension is a condition where high pressure builds up in the vessels or arteries. There are no symptoms, so some might not even know they have hypertension until their blood pressure is measured. Stage 1 hypertension is 140-159 over 90-99. Stage 2 is a reading of greater than 160 over greater than 100.

Whether you have pre-hypertension hypertension or trying to prevent hypertension, the DASH eating plan can help achieve goals for reducing high blood pressure in many people. The DASH plan has many health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, lowering LDL (lousy) cholesterol, reducing stress on the kidneys, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, and promoting weight loss.

The DASH eating plan is a healthy eating pattern that emphasizes: fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean protein (such as fish and poultry), nuts, seeds, legumes, and limits sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. The DASH plan recommends lowering sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg daily, about one teaspoon. While we need a small amount of sodium to help our bodies work correctly, most Americans eat more than they should, about 3,400 mg daily. A health provider may advise individuals with hypertension or pre-hypertension to lower sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily.

So, where is sodium found? Processed and ready-to-eat foods, such as canned foods, cereals, mixed dishes, canned soups, processed meats, and prepared meals such as frozen dinners, can be the main culprits. Look at the Nutrition Facts Label and choose foods with a 5% daily value or less. Limiting the amount of salt added at the table and during food preparation may also help reduce sodium intake.

Physical activity is also part of a healthy lifestyle that helps maintain or achieve a healthy weight, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity and relieving lower stress. You can begin with minor changes, such as walking for 10 to 15 daily. Aim for 30 minutes most days of the week.

Making a change to the DASH eating plan doesn’t happen overnight. Making small changes over a few weeks is recommended. For more information, contact the Hopkins County Extension Office.

Closing Thought

Today’s to-do list:

  • Count my blessings, pray.
  • Practice kindness.
  • Let go of what I can’t control.
  • Listen to my heart.
  • Just breathe.
  • Pray again.

Johanna Hicks, B.S., M.Ed.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Family & Community Health Agent

Hopkins County

P.O. Box 518

1200-B W. Houston

Sulphur Springs, TX 75483