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Healthy Lifestyle to Prevent Hypertension

You can take steps to prevent and treat your high blood pressure by adopting a healthy lifestyle. These steps include maintaining a healthy weight; being physically active; following a healthy eating plan, that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy foods; choosing and preparing foods with less salt and sodium; and, if you drink alcoholic beverages, drinking in moderation.

Healthy Eating - The DASH Eating Plan

For an overall eating plan, consider the DASH eating plan. "DASH" stands for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension," a clinical study that tested the effects of nutrients in food on blood pressure. Study results indicated that elevated blood pressures were reduced by an eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy foods and is low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts and has reduced amounts of fats, red meats, sweets, and sugared beverages.

A second clinical study, called "DASH-Sodium," looked at the effect of a reduced dietary sodium intake on blood pressure as people followed either the DASH eating plan or a typical American diet. Results showed that reducing dietary sodium lowered blood pressure for both the DASH eating plan and the typical American diet. The biggest blood pressure-lowering benefits were for those eating the DASH eating plan at the lowest sodium level (1,500 milligrams per day).

The DASH-Sodium study shows the importance of lowering sodium intake whatever your diet. But for a true winning combination, follow the DASH eating plan and lower your intake of salt and sodium.

How do I make the DASH?

The DASH eating plan used in the studies calls for a certain number of servings daily from various food groups. These are shown below for a 2,000 calories/day diet. The number of servings you require may vary, depending on your caloric need


You should be aware that the DASH eating plan has more daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods than you may be used to eating. Because the plan is high in fiber, it can cause bloating and diarrhea in some persons. To avoid these problems, gradually increase your intake of fruit, vegetables, and whole grain foods.

Because it is rich in fruits and vegetables, which are naturally lower in sodium than many other foods, the DASH eating plan makes it easier to consume less salt and sodium. Still, you may want to begin by adopting the DASH eating plan at the level of 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day and then further lower your sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day.

Getting Started with DASH

It's easy to adopt the DASH eating plan. Here are some ways to get started:

Change gradually

  • If you now eat one or two vegetables a day, add a serving at lunch and another at dinner.
  • If you don't eat fruit now or have only juice at breakfast, add a serving to your meals or have it as a snack.
  • Use only half the butter, margarine, or salad dressing you do now.
  • Try lowfat or fat free condiments, such as fat free salad dressings.
  • Gradually increase dairy products to three servings per day. For example, drink milk with lunch or dinner, instead of soda, alcohol, or sugar-sweetened tea. Choose lowfat (1 percent) or fat free (skim) dairy products to reduce total fat intake.

Treat meat as one part of the whole meal, instead of the focus.

  • Buy less meat. If it's not there, you won't eat it.
  • Limit meat to 6 ounces a day (two servings)--all that's needed. Three to four ounces is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • If you now eat large portions of meat, cut them back gradually--by a half or a third at each meal.
  • Include two or more vegetarian-style (meatless) meals each week.
  • Increase servings of vegetables, rice, pasta, and dry beans in meals. Try casseroles and pasta, and stir-fry dishes, having less meat and more vegetables, grains, and dry beans.

Use fruits or lowfat foods as desserts and snacks.

  • Fruits and lowfat foods offer great taste and variety. Use fruits canned in their own juice. Fresh fruits require little or no preparation. Dried fruits are easy to carry with you.
  • Try these snack ideas: unsalted pretzels or nuts mixed with raisins; graham crackers; lowfat and fat free yogurt and frozen yogurt; plain popcorn with no salt or butter added; and raw vegetables.

A Word About Fats. Fats — especially saturated fat — affect the health of your heart and blood vessels. There are various types of fat. Saturated fat is often found in foods from animals. This includes fatty meats, the skin of poultry, and whole-milk dairy products, such as butter, cheese, cream, and ice cream. It also is in coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils. These oils are found mostly in processed foods, such as baked goods, snack foods, and crackers. If you use saturated fat, keep the amount small. Instead of saturated fat, try soft or liquid margarine and such oils as canola, safflower, and olive. However, all kinds of fats have the same amount of calories and need to be limited to help you lose weight.

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