Conversely, poor eating habits can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system and your body as a whole. One of the best things you can do for a healthy heart is limit the amount of sodium in your diet. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is an eating plan that helps with that.
What is DASH?
Eating too much sodium like that found in table salt can lead to hypertension. This condition is defined by elevated blood pressure, specifically, when systolic blood pressure goes over 130 mm Hg or diastolic pressure exceeds 80 mm Hg. High blood pressure puts a strain on your arteries and blood vessels. Over time the added stress can lead to cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. The DASH eating plan is effective at lowering blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol (another risk factor for cardiovascular issues). DASH was developed to help with hypertension, but for some patients it may also help with weight loss as it promotes healthier dietary patterns*.
Here are the nutritional changes that DASH recommends:
1. Increase intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
DASH promotes eating a diet filled with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than many meats and oils. They contain a host of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Whole grains, like brown rice, whole-wheat bread and oatmeal, contain many more vitamins and minerals than refined grain options. All of the additions that DASH promotes are nutrient-dense and loaded with fiber. Fiber-rich foods help lower cholesterol. They also make you feel full more quickly during a meal, which can help you to take in fewer calories throughout the day. Sustained over time, a decrease in calories can result in weight loss.
2. Eat fat-free or low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils
A calcium-rich diet can decrease blood pressure by helping to tighten and relax blood vessels. This is, in part, why DASH supports consuming fat-free or low-fat dairy. You may well know that dairy is an excellent source of calcium! Under a doctor’s supervision, you can take calcium in supplement form, but a variety of foods contain high levels of calcium as well. If you prefer non-dairy options, spinach, collard greens and kale are excellent sources. Some beverages like calcium-fortified orange juice and fortified milk alternatives (e.g., soy and almond milk) can also help you meet your daily calcium needs.
In addition to calcium, omega-3 fatty acids may play a crucial role in promoting a healthy heart. Omega-3s are believed to decrease cholesterol and blood pressure. DASH recommends increasing intake of foods like vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, fish and leafy greens, which all contain omega-3s. Also, opting for foods high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats is an excellent option for vascular health. These unsaturated fats are prevalent in foods like olive oil, flaxseeds, walnuts and fatty fish.
3. Decrease intake of saturated fats
In addition to helping with vascular function, low-fat and fat-free dairy contains lesser amounts of saturated fat. Saturated fat intake is directly related to elevated LDL cholesterol. [Remember, LDL is the “bad” cholesterol that contributes to heart disease.] LDL can gradually build up in our bloodstream depending on the foods we eat. Namely, foods like full-fat dairy and high-fat meats contribute to saturated fat intake and elevated cholesterol levels. Not only are those options bad for your heart, they are also bad for your waistline. Higher fat foods add extra calories to your diet, which can impact your weight. Limiting saturated fat can help you manage your LDL cholesterol, risk of heart disease and weight. Keep to lower fat dairy options and try to incorporate more skinless chicken in your diet for quick ways to decrease your saturated fat intake.
4. Limit intake of sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages
Sweets and sugary drinks contribute unnecessary, empty calories to our diets. They also contribute greatly to weight gain. Weight management is one reason health care professionals discourage overconsumption of sugar. DASH also encourages individuals to limit their sugar intake. Research suggests that excess sugar may play a role in elevating cholesterol levels. While the taste may be satisfying, it’s best to consume sugar in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit sugar intake to 6 teaspoons per day. Men should limit consumption to 9 teaspoons per day.
High sodium intake is another major contributor to heart disease. Consuming too much salt in any form can increase blood pressure, putting considerable strain on the heart and blood vessels. The DASH eating plan recommends limiting sodium intake to 2300 mg per day. That’s about one teaspoon. To lower blood pressure even further, limit sodium to 1500 mg daily. This is a pretty substantial decrease considering most people consume over 3,400 mg per day.
Give DASH a Try
The DASH eating plan is useful for lowering blood pressure and promoting a healthy heart. Its dietary recommendations – decreasing sugar intake, increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains, etc. – can also help with weight management for some people*. DASH is intended for lifelong use, and since it does not prohibit any foods entirely, it’s pretty sustainable. Just think, an eating style that improves nutritional habits and heart health without medication. It’s almost too good to be true!
*Here at Cederquist, we provide tailor-made programs based upon your specific body-chemistry. As with any diet plan, the DASH diet may not result in weight loss for all people. It is important that you see your Cederquist provider to find out the best way for you to lose weight. If you need help with weight loss, contact Cederquist Medical Wellness Center at (239) 249-3647 to schedule an appointment! We’re happy to be of service.