According to the American Heart Association, our diets are definitely one of the most important lifestyle modifications when it comes to lowering our blood pressure. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is the recommended diet. This diet does not only lower blood pressure, but it can also help to lower cholesterol, help you lose weight and lower the risk of chronic illnesses such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, etc.
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What Is The DASH Diet?
The DASH diet is a balanced and flexible eating plan that focuses on nutritional goals instead of having to eat all kinds of special foods. The following is recommended:
- Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Include vegetable oils, nuts, beans, poultry, fish and low-fat or fat-free dairy.
- Limit sweets and sweetened beverages.
- Limit full-fat dairy, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, fatty meats and saturated fat.
How To Follow The DASH Diet
You need to consider your physical activity level and your age to figure out what your calorie needs are. If you are happy with your weight, you should only eat the number of calories that you burn each day. This is known as energy balance (if you need more info on energy balance, click here). If you want to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you burn each day.
Firstly, you have to ask yourself whether you are active (you work out most days of the week), moderately active (you work out three to four times per week) or sedentary (you only move as part of your daily routine).
If you are a woman between 19-30 years old, you need 2000 calories (sedentary), 2000-2200 calories (moderately active) or 2400 calories (active) per day.
If you are a woman between 31-50 years old, you need 1800 calories (sedentary), 2000 calories (moderately active) or 2200 calories (active) per day.
And lastly, if you are 51 years and older, you need 1600 calories (sedentary), 1800 calories (moderately active) or 2000-2200 calories (active) per day.
The amount of servings of each food group that you will use each day depends on your specific calorie needs. The following servings are based on a 2000 calories per day diet.
- 6-8 portions of whole grains
- 6 or less servings of fish, poultry and meat
- 4-5 portions of vegetables
- 4-5 servings of fruit
- 2-3 portions of fat-free or low-fat dairy
- 2-3 portions of fats and oils
The following can be included in the diet on a weekly basis:
- 4-5 portions of peas, dry beans, seeds and nuts
- 5 or less servings of sweets
Lower Your Sodium Levels
If you want to benefit from the DASH diet, it is important to control your sodium levels. The key to managing this is by making better food choices when cooking, eating out and when you’re shopping. Here are a few tips on how to make sure you limit your sodium levels effectively:
- Avoid flavored or instant pasta or rice.
- Choose frozen or fresh versus canned vegetables and fruits.
- Choose fresh meats, fish and poultry instead of meats such as ham and bacon.
- Try not to add salt when cooking. Use dried or fresh herbs, fresh lime or lemon juice or salt-free blends instead.
- Rinse foods that were soaked in brine in order to remove any sodium.
How To Make The DASH Diet Sustainable
- Don’t worry if you have a slip-up. Nobody is perfect and changing your lifestyle is difficult at first. Rather try to focus on the long-term process.
- Take small steps. When starting out, it is important not to try to change too many things at a time. Slow changes will give you a better chance at success.
- Make goals more attainable. Try to break down your goals into simpler, smaller steps.
- Celebrate every step. If you reached a goal, make sure to celebrate it in a non-food way. Take a foam bath, go see a movie, buy yourself those shoes you’ve always wanted or have a weekend break-away. Here are 21 ways to celebrate without food.