The first line of treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure) is lifestyle intervention. Although further drug treatment can be built upon the dietary and lifestyle modifications, the DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, has been proven to create similar reductions in blood pressure to those achieved by medications.
The DASH diet is a diet that effectively lowers blood pressure when combined with dietary sodium restriction. It was voted the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 top overall diet by U.S. News & World Report Best Diets, described by the panel as an ‘all-star’ diet for its “nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, and role in supporting heart health. Though obscure, it beat out a field full of better-known diets”.
“This creates a diet that is not only lower in saturated fat and sodium, but also higher in fibre, antioxidants, and key vitamins and minerals.”
As reinforced by the New England Journal of Medicine, in order to reduce blood pressure, an individual is required to follow a high quality diet rich in potassium rather than a sodium reduced diet (of less than 1500 mg daily) alone. As such, the DASH diet includes an adequate consumption of colourful fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and nuts, moderate amounts of reduced fat dairy, and lesser amounts of energy-dense nutrient-poor treat foods and animal proteins (especially red and processed meats).
This creates a diet that is not only lower in saturated fat and sodium, but also higher in fibre, antioxidants, and key vitamins and minerals (such as the blood pressure lowering potassium, calcium and magnesium). The DASH diet contains all the delicious foods found in the Mediterranean diet, another highly regarded style of eating to improve cardiovascular risk markers.
The DASH diet is a healthy eating model for the whole family and is also a sustainable, safe and effective way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. For the best results, incorporate additional lifestyle changes such as choosing water as the main drink and moderating alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and being involved in regular physical activity.
DASH diet plan sample
Here’s an example of what a day following the DASH principles could look like:
Breakfast: Porridge made from rolled oats and reduced fat milk. Top it with fruit, some nuts and seeds.
Morning tea: Vegetable sticks (carrot, celery, capsicum) with hummus or guacamole.
Lunch: Crispy and colourful garden salad with grilled chicken and avocado, topped with lemon juice and balsamic vinegar.
Afternoon tea: Greek yoghurt topped with berries, or a small handful (30 g) of mixed, unsalted nuts.
Dinner: Grilled salmon topped with diced tomato and avocado, and served with one baked potato (sprinkled with cheese) and steamed veggies.