Many people eat their way to high blood pressure (hypertension). It's also possible to eat your way out of it, according to the March 2013 Harvard Men's Health Watch.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan—low in animal fat and salt; abundant in blood-pressure-lowering nutrients—is scientifically proven to battle high blood pressure. It can reduce blood pressure by 10 points—about as much as adding a medication, says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of cardiology, VA Boston Healthcare System.
Here's the DASH plan in a nutshell: keep fat intake under 27% of total calories, eat many servings of fruits and vegetables, choose whole instead of processed grains, include low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and choose small portions of poultry, fish, and nuts as your primary source of protein rather than red meat.
The DASH diet includes abundant amounts of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Potassium is particularly important. "It's harder to control blood pressure—even with medications—if there isn't enough potassium in the diet," says Dr. Michelle Hauser, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a certified chef and nutrition educator. The DASH diet also is low in salt—the sodium in salt can boost blood pressure.
Like any lifestyle change, the following the DASH plan takes some work. And it may not be right for everyone. If the DASH diet doesn't look like a good fit, try an overall heart-healthy Mediterranean-style diet. (Read about the heart benefits of a Mediterranean diet on the Harvard Health blog.) "The Mediterranean diet is not medically proven in the sense of lowering blood pressure by a specific number of points over two weeks, like the DASH diet," Dr. Hauser says. "But there are lots of studies showing that people eating their traditional foods in the Mediterranean areas of the world have less heart disease and less high blood pressure."
Read the full-length article: "Blood pressure: What's food got to do with it?"