Twenty years ago, reports from Harvard School of Public Health showed that a diet rich in plants lowers high blood pressure (1,2). It’s called the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.) Other studies show that similar eating patterns lower cholesterol, help to control diabetes and cause weight loss in people who are overweight. The DASH diet is similar to the many Mediterranean-type diets.
It took only two weeks for the diet to have an effect and after eight weeks, 70 percent of those eating the DASH diet had normal blood pressures, compared to 45 percent on the fruits-and-vegetables diet and 23 percent on the control diet. The authors felt that increasing minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium lowers high blood pressure perhaps by suppressing calcium regulating hormones that close blood vessels. The diet appears to act the same way as the diuretics that are the most common drugs prescribed to control blood pressure: it gets rid of excess sodium (3).
Most people will not have their high blood pressure lowered just by restricting salt. These studies show that a diet to lower high blood pressure should be rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, contain beans, seeds, nuts and low-fat dairy products, and limit everything else. Here’s a day on the DASH diet: up to 8 servings of grains, 5 or more servings of vegetables, 5 or more servings of fruit, up to 2-3 servings of dairy products, a serving of nuts, seeds or beans, 1-2 servings of meat, poultry or fish. Sweets and added fats are restricted or avoided.
You should immediately notice that this is basically the diet that I have recommended for more than 30 years. Here’s MY MODIFIED DASH DIET for total heart health — to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, control weight, and prevent or control diabetes. Daily portions should include:
Up to 8 servings (1/2 cup) of WHOLE grains (not products made from flour)
At least 5 vegetables
At least 5 fruits
Up to 3 servings of plain yogurt or cheese (optional)
2 servings of seafood per week; more is OK (I recommend that you avoid meat from mammals)
Beans or legumes (no limit)
A few handfuls of nuts or snack seeds
A few tablespoons of olive oil (optional)
Avoid: added sugars and other refined carbohydrates
VERY IMPORTANT – Exercise!
Note: Serving sizes are typically 1/2 cup of cooked foods, 1 cup of raw fruits or vegetables.
To see if you are among the eighty percent of people who can control blood pressure and cholesterol with this diet, try my SHOW ME! diet for just two weeks. You (and your doctor) will be amazed. If it works for you, you can make some permanent lifestyle changes and avoid taking drugs that are usually prescribed for these conditions.
If you need to lose weight or control your weight, adapt these same foods to a program of intermittent fasting.
1) The effect of dietary patterns on blood pressure control in hypertensive patients: Results from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trial. American Journal of Hypertension, 2000, Vol 13, Iss 9, pp 949-955.
2) Factors affecting blood pressure responses to diet: The vanguard study. American Journal of Hypertension, 2000, Vol 13, Iss 9, pp 956-965
3) Hypertension, July 2003 (a journal of the American Heart Association)
4) Circulation, September 2000