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What to Eat When You Have High Blood Pressure

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Do more than just cutting back on salt. 

Whether you’re newly diagnosed with high blood pressure or it’s something you’ve been managing for a while, you likely already know that curbing your sodium intake is key to helping you keep your high blood pressure in check. 

But you can do more than just cut back on the salt you add to your food and watch your sodium from packaged and processed foods. There’s actually a diet that naturally helps lower your blood pressure. It’s called the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure).

But think of it less as a diet, more as a way of eating.

DASH emphasizes eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins like fish and poultry. It encourages you to dial back on sweets and red meat—both a little heavy on the calorie front and also deliver a fair amount of (heart unhealthy) saturated fat. Sound’s familiar, right? You’re really just following an overall healthy eating pattern. Oh and, of course, you watch your salt intake, too.

For someone following about a 2,000-calorie diet, you want to aim to eat:

  •  6 servings of whole grains a day
  •  6 or fewer servings from the meat, poultry, fish category each day
  •  4 to 5 servings of vegetables a day
  •  4 to 5 servings of fruit a day
  •  2 to 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy each day
  •  2 to 3 servings from the fats and oils category per day
  • Absolutely cap your sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day, and try for lower—aiming for 1,500 milligrams may yield   even better blood pressure benefits
  • Then, each week, shoot for 2 to 3 servings of nuts and/or seeds and limit your sweets to 5 or less.

You can get more information and find out how much of each food group to eat for different calorie levels here.

As I said, it can help you naturally lower your blood pressure. (Research also shows it can improve your “bad” LDL cholesterol, too.) How? When your diet leans heavily on produce, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy, you’re getting ample potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein—all nutrients that have a positive impact on your blood pressure.

How to Bake with Whole Grains and Nut Flours

If you’re thinking “Pft! That’s not me, my blood pressure is just fine”—hold on. Following the DASH diet may also help prevent you from developing high blood pressure. When you have high blood pressure, you raise your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, kidney disease and sexual dysfunction—basically any system that relies on appropriately-pressured, oxygen-rich blood.

And in case you still need more reasons to try out the DASH diet, take note: U.S. News & World Reports ranked DASH #1 for Best Diet Overall. Every year a panel of health experts reviews about 38 diets and DASH snagged the top spot last year. They also deemed it great for losing weight, managing diabetes and promoting heart health. Another major boon: they ranked it as one of the easiest diets to follow.

So give it a go, and then come back and tell us what you think.

Lastly: talk to your doctor about incorporating this diet into your plan to manage your high blood pressure. It shouldn’t take the place of your current medical regimen.