High blood pressure is perhaps the biggest factor for heart disease in the United States, affecting nearly 1 in 3 adults. But it's also a condition you can control with specific diet and lifestyle changes.
Who is at risk
Do you know your blood pressure numbers? A healthy reading for a person's blood pressure should be below 120/80. If either number is slightly higher -- in the range of 120-139 for top number and 80-89 for lower number -- you're considered to have prehypertension, which means your blood pressure could become a problem. Somebody with prehypertension has a very good chance of lowering blood pressure through diet and exercise changes.
If the numbers exceed 140 for the top (systolic) number and 90 or higher for the bottom (diastolic) number, then you have hypertension, better known as "high blood pressure." Most doctors urge you to take action, which may include prescribed medication, exercise, and the DASH eating plan.
How the DASH diet can help
Recent research has shown that blood pressure can be lowered by following a specific eating plan, known as the DASH diet. (The acronym stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.) Results of following the DASH plan and reducing sodium intake (below 2400 mg per day) showed blood pressure reductions in a matter of two weeks, according to this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The DASH eating plan is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat. Emphasizing fruits, vegetables, lowfat dairy, and whole grains, the diet is rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium and provides plenty of protein and fiber.
What's a sample eating plan?
The HHS fact sheet has a comprehensive list of recommended foods and sample meal plans for a week. Here is a sample for one day:
Breakfast: 3/4 cup cornflakes, 1/2 cup fat-free fruit yogurt, 1 medium apple, 1 cup grape juice, 1 cup fat-free milk.
Lunch: Ham and cheese sandwich (2 oz low-sodium smoked ham, 1 slice reduced fat cheddar cheese, 2 slices whole wheat bread, 1 leaf romaine lettuce, 2 slices tomato, 1 tbsp lowfat mayonnaise), 1 cup carrot sticks.
Dinner: 3 oz. cod with 1 tsp of lemon juice, 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup spinach (cooked from frozen), 1 small cornbread muffin with 1 tsp soft margarine.
Snack: 1/3 cup unsalted almonds, 1/2 cup fruit cocktail, 1 cup apple juice.
Other actions to help lower blood pressure
In addition to a healthy eating plan that's low in sodium, these additional steps can help lower blood pressure, according to Dr. Phil M., a physician on JustAnswer:
- Exercise at least 30 minutes 6 times per week.
- Don't smoke or drink alcohol.
- Lose weight if you are considered overweight.
You can also find helpful ideas about how to transition to the DASH eating plan in this fact sheet.
If you have specific questions about your heart health, you can speak with a doctor right now on JustAnswer.