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High Blood Pressure: Nutrition Tips

Topic Overview

DASH diet

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet can help you lower your blood pressure. It includes eating fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or nonfat dairy foods. For more information on the DASH diet, see:

Click here to view an Actionset.High Blood Pressure: Using the DASH Diet.
DASH Diet Sample Menu.

Follow these daily recommendations:

The DASH eating plan
Food Recommended servings Examples

Low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products

2 to 3 servings a day

A serving is 8 ounces of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese.

Fruits

4 to 5 servings a day

A serving is 1 medium-sized piece of fruit, 1/2 cup chopped or canned fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit, or 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of fruit juice. Choose fruit more often than fruit juice.

Vegetables

4 to 5 servings a day

A serving is 1 cup of lettuce or raw leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup of chopped or cooked vegetables, or 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of vegetable juice. Choose vegetables more often than vegetable juice.

Grains

6 to 8 servings a day

A serving is 1 slice of bread, 1 ounce of dry cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cooked cereal. Try to choose whole-grain products as much as possible.

Meat, poultry, fish

No more than 2 servings a day

A serving is 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards

Legumes, nuts, seeds

4 to 5 servings a week

A serving is 1/3 cup of nuts, 2 tablespoons of seeds, or 1/2 cup cooked dried beans or peas.

Fats and oils

2 to 3 servings a day

A serving is 1 teaspoon of soft margarine or vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons of salad dressing.

Sweets and added sugars

5 servings a week or less

A serving is 1 tablespoon of jelly or jam, 1/2 cup of sorbet, or 1 cup of lemonade.

Cut down on fats

Eating a diet low in both saturated fat and total fat will help lower your blood pressure.

Although you need some fat in your diet, limit how much saturated fat you eat. These fats are mostly in animal foods, such as meat and dairy foods. Coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter are also saturated fats. Palm and coconut oils are often found in processed foods, including crackers and snack foods.

Follow the recommendations below to include healthy fats in your diet. DASH recommends that a little less than a third of your total calories come from fats. And most of these calories should come from healthy fats such as vegetable oils, nuts, and fish. Very few calories should come from saturated fat, which is found in animal meat, dairy products, and processed foods.

Cut back on sodium

There is a link between eating sodium and having high blood pressure. Reducing sodium in the diet can prevent high blood pressure in those at risk for the disease and can help control high blood pressure. Limiting sodium is part of a heart-healthy eating plan that can help prevent heart disease and stroke.

Try to eat less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, if you are African-American, or if you are older than age 50, try to limit the amount of sodium you eat to less than 1,500 mg a day.1

Sodium and High Blood Pressure
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Eat fewer processed foods

Cutting back on the amount of processed or refined foods you eat can help. These foods, such as canned and instant soups, packaged mixes, and snack items, don't have enough calcium, potassium, and magnesium—the very nutrients you need to help lower your blood pressure. And these foods can be high in sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats.

Vegetarian diet

You also may try a vegetarian diet. In general, vegetarian diets reduce blood pressure, although experts don't know exactly why. The DASH diet could easily be a vegetarian diet if legumes (for example, beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts) were substituted for meat. Vegetarian diets tend to be higher in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as does the DASH diet. Vegetarian diets also are higher in fiber and unsaturated fats than other diets.

Potassium, calcium, and magnesium

Not eating enough foods containing potassium, calcium, and magnesium may contribute to high blood pressure.

To get enough of these nutrients, eat a balanced diet that contains plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and whole grains. Most people do not need to take dietary supplements to get enough potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Good sources of potassium

All fresh fruits and vegetables and meats are good sources of potassium. Examples include the following:

  • Bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, and orange juice
  • Raw or cooked spinach, lima beans, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and artichokes
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes (cooked dried beans and peas) such as pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
Good sources of calcium
  • Low-fat dairy products (yogurt, skim milk, cheese)
Good sources of magnesium
  • Legumes (cooked dried beans and peas), seeds, and nuts
  • Halibut
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Brown rice and potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Bananas and watermelon
  • Leafy green vegetables

Dietary supplements

The safest way to ensure good nutrition is through a balanced, varied diet instead of through nutritional supplements.

Very large amounts of any of these minerals taken in the form of a supplement can cause problems, including possible death. See your doctor before taking large quantities of any supplement.

What does not lower blood pressure?

Fish and fish oil

Fish or fish oil supplements do not lower blood pressure. But eating fish can help lower your risk for heart disease.

You can eat fish as part of the DASH diet. Fish is part of heart-healthy eating. The American Heart Association suggests eating at least two servings of fish a week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best for your heart. These fish include tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.

Garlic and onions

Although eating garlic and onions has been recommended to reduce blood pressure, evidence shows that only very small decreases in blood pressure may result.

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp.

Other Works Consulted

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2006). Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH (NIH Publication No. 06-4082). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised April 5, 2013

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