DASH your way to lower blood pressure
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) estimates that one in four American adults has high blood pressure; that number jumps to three in four for those 65 and older.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is high blood pressure can be controlled, sometimes without medication, by changes to your diet.
Hypertension is defined as consistently high blood pressure measuring 140/90 mmHG or higher, and once you’ve been diagnosed, chances are you will continue to be hypertensive for the rest of your life. If you don’t get it under control, that may not be as long as you’d like.
“Hypertension is related to heart disease and stroke. Directly related,” said Dr. Vecihi Batuman, Medicine Service chief for Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System.
However, hypertension can be controlled once it’s discovered.
“We in the VA do a better job than private practitioners in helping our patients control their hypertension,” Dr. Batuman said, noting that nationally, only one in three hypertension patients are considered to have “controlled” blood pressure (less than 140/90). In the VA, it is three in four.
“Hypertension is determined or checked at every encounter,” he added.
By checking regularly, VA providers are able to head off problems early, possibly contributing to the high success rate of VA patients in controlling their hypertension.
Control measures generally begin with lifestyle changes to diet and exercise. The VA uses the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet.
“DASH is based on a clinical study that found that high blood pressure can be reduced with an eating plan rich in fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy,” said Registered Dietitian Trionne Burrell.
Reducing cholesterol, fat and salt intake is critical.
“Salt and fat intake tends to be higher in Louisiana,” Batuman said, noting that Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida are known as the ‘stroke belt’ due to high obesity and blood pressure rates.
Veterans can substitute other herbs, spices and even grocery items to gain flavor witout adding salt, said Chief of Nutrition and Food Services Pat Skinner. “Citrus adds great flavor.”
“Shopping the outer perimeter of the grocery store for fresh produce, lean meat and low fat dairy sets the stage for good nutrition. Processed foods are often high in sodium,” Burrell said. She also cautioned to avoid pickled, smoked and cured items.
By following the DASH diet, limiting alcohol intake and becoming more physically active, patients with mild to moderate hypertension can get their blood pressure under control without necessarily needing medication. As a bonus, the diet is also good for those seeking to lose weight and keep it off, according to the NHLBI.
“Start small and make gradual changes; you will be able to continue for a lifetime,” Burrell said.
For more information, go to http://www.pbrc.edu/pdf/PNS-dash.pdf.