Dietary patterns—when and what we choose to eat on a regular basis—are tightly related to our overall health. We can prevent or delay onset of disease through daily choices we make including diet and exercise. For example, many studies have found that eating a low-fiber, high-fat diet and drinking excess alcohol increase the risk of developing chronic disease, such as obesity, heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure).
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension
One diet in particular that can help lower blood pressure is called the DASH Diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension), which includes 3 servings of low-fat dairy foods, 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables and is overall low in fat and saturated fat. Eating this diet for 8 weeks can lower blood pressure as much as some blood-pressure-lowering medications. Researchers estimate that if all Americans followed the DASH eating pattern, heart disease and stroke would be reduced by 15 and 27 percent, respectively. This would mean 225,000 fewer heart attacks and 100,000 fewer strokes every year!1 Omitting milk and dairy foods from the DASH diet does not seem to have the same effect, lowering blood pressure by only half as much, indicating that the complete dietary pattern is necessary for the full benefit.
A follow-up study found that the same diet with lower sodium levels, resulted in even greater reductions in blood pressure. Those who benefited the most were people who had mild hypertension and certain ethnic groups (African Americans in particular).2
Many others have confirmed the health benefits of the DASH diet. Studies have found that following this diet:
- reduces 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease 11% more than a diet just high in fruits and vegetables3
- reduces risk of stroke and heart disease in middle-aged women4
- improves cardiovascular risk factors among diabetics5
- reduces risk of cardiovascular disease in youth with diabetes6
- may help improve insulin sensitivity when combined with exercise and weight management7
- may help prevent diabetes8
- may even reduce risk of colorectal cancer9 and kidney stone risk10
For overweight or obese persons with slightly elevated blood pressure, the addition of exercise and weight loss to the DASH regimen resulted in even larger blood pressure reductions and greater improvements in heart disease risk factors.11
One study even found that adults with mild hypertension who followed the DASH pattern for 8 years had lower death rates overall.12
Other ways to control blood pressure, aside from diet, include losing extra weight, engaging in regular physical activity and moderating alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per day.
An estimated 65 million (1 in 5) Americans have high blood pressure, and an additional 59 million are deemed "pre-hypertensive," putting them at risk for developing the disease. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke and can lead to kidney damage.
The good news is that eating foods according to this eating pattern can be delicious. For more information on this diet and how to make it work for you, click here.
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