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A healthy eating plan to reduce the risk of developing hypertension and high blood pressure

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For those looking to reduce blood pressure through diet, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet may be the answer.

This dietary plan is low in saturated fats, total fat, and cholesterol while being rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. Picture: Taryn Elliott/Pexels

WORLD Hypertension Day which was on May 17, is an annual event dedicated to raising awareness about hypertension, often called a silent killer. This health condition is a leading cause of premature deaths worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1.28 billion adults aged 30 to 79 are living with hypertension. Sadly, only 46% of these individuals are aware of their condition.

Diet plays a critical role in managing and reducing hypertension, according to the Discovery Health Medical Scheme.

Impact of diet on blood pressure

What you eat can greatly influence your blood pressure. Adopting a healthy eating plan can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and help lower existing high blood pressure levels.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a well-established guideline aimed at lowering blood pressure and improving overall health.

This dietary plan is low in saturated fats, total fat, and cholesterol while being rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods.

It includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts, and limits the intake of fats, red meat, sweets, and sugary beverages.

Moreover, the DASH diet is high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, protein, and fibre. Reducing salt and sodium intake further helps in lowering blood pressure.

How to implement the DASH diet in your daily diet

The DASH eating plan involves consuming more daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains, which might be more than most people are accustomed to.

These foods are high in fibre, and a sudden increase in their intake can lead to temporary bloating and diarrhoea. To prevent this, it is recommended to gradually increase the servings of these foods, allowing the body to adjust.

A good first step to improving your diet is to understand what you’re currently eating. It’s common to underestimate how much we eat, especially when we’re snacking between meals or eating on the go.

To get a clear picture, track everything you eat for a whole week, including weekends. Picture: Jane Trang Doan/Pexels

To get a clear picture, track everything you eat for a whole week, including weekends. Write down what you eat, how much, when, and why.

This will help you spot gaps in your nutrition and reveal interesting trends, like when you consume the most calories or snack on sugary or high-fat foods. Understanding these patterns can help you identify and address habits that might be affecting your health.

Typical foods that make a DASH diet

Add lentils and a variety of beans to your meals.

Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Consume small portions of low-fat dairy products.

Limit your intake of poultry and fish.

Limit nuts.

Why these foods?

Vegetables and fruits are rich in potassium, which helps eliminate excess sodium from the body’s tissues, a key factor in high blood pressure.

Consuming up to two portions of low-fat or fat-free dairy products can help counteract high blood fat levels and potentially reduce kidney dysfunction caused by high protein intake.

Consuming up to two portions of low-fat or fat-free dairy products can help counteract high blood fat levels. Picture: Pixabay

It’s important to note that the DASH diet is not specifically designed for weight loss. However, it includes low-calorie foods, which can help you lose weight when eaten in the right portion sizes.

How to incorporate these food groups into your daily eating plan:

Add a vegetable or fruit serving at lunch or dinner.

Use only half of the butter or margarine you currently use now.

Get added nutrients such as B vitamins by choosing whole grain foods including wheat bread or whole grain cereals.

Spread out your serving of fruits and vegetables. Have two servings at each meal or add fruits as snacks

Treat meat as one part of the meal instead of making it the focus of your plate. Try casserole pasta, stir fry dishes. Have two or more meatless meals a week.

For those looking to reduce blood pressure through diet, the DASH diet may be the answer.

Here’s a simple guide detailing what foods to include on a daily basis:

Nuts, seeds, and legumes:

Servings per week: 4-5

Serving size: 1/2 cup of cooked legumes, chickpeas, beans, or 38g/1/3 cup of nuts, or 2 tablespoons of seeds.

Meats, poultry, and fish:

Servings per day: 2 or less

Serving size: 85g of cooked meat, poultry or fish.

Low-fat or fat-free dairy:

Servings per day: 2-3

Serving size: 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yoghurt, or 30g of cheese.

Fruits:

Servings per day: 4-5

Serving size: 1 medium fruit, 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, or 170ml of fruit juice.

Vegetables:

Servings per day: 4-5

Serving size: 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw vegetables, or 170ml of vegetable juice or soup.

Grains and cereals:

Servings per day: 7-8

Serving size: 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.

This diet emphasises whole foods and reduces red meat, sugar, and fat intake. It’s designed to help lower blood pressure by encouraging healthy eating habits.

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