Dietitians Dish: Dietary treatment of high blood pressure

May 10, 2010 at 12:10 a.m.
Updated May 11, 2010 at 12:11 a.m.

By Katherine Klingle

Do you have high blood pressure? According to the National Heart Lung Blood Institute, about one in every three American adults do.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often diagnosed when blood pressure is greater than 140/90 mm Hg. Pre-hypertension, which affects another 59 million Americans, is often diagnosed when blood pressure is between 120/80 mm Hg and 140/90 mm Hg.

High blood pressure usually lacks symptoms. You can have high blood pressure for years and not know it while it is damaging your heart, kidneys, eyes and circulatory system. Medications are often prescribed, but what you eat can also have quite an impact on blood pressure.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute developed a research-based eating plan to treat hypertension called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH guidelines recommend increased dietary intake of foods rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium intake as these nutrients are associated with lowering blood pressure. Limiting your sodium intake and lowering saturated and trans fat intake further reduces your risks. Throw a little fiber in, and you have a great plan to keep hypertension in check. Following the DASH guidelines, along with being physically active, maintaining a normal weight and watching your alcohol and salt intake, can lower and, perhaps, help prevent high blood pressure. Getting started is simple.

Most of us like fruits and vegetables, but oftentimes don't make a conscious effort to include them in our diet. The DASH guidelines recommend consuming about 7 to 12 servings of fruit and vegetables every day, depending on your particular calorie needs, to contribute blood pressure lowering nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium and fiber to your diet.

That sounds like a lot of fruits and vegetables. But if we cut out some of our less nutritious food choices, like chips, sweets and snack foods, and gradually incorporate fruits and vegetables, it's also easier to keep weight under control. Here are a few suggestions to increase your fruit and vegetable intake:

1. Purchase ready to eat bite-size tomatoes, baby carrots, grapes, apples, oranges, bagged salads and other produce. It's always good to rinse produce before eating.

2. Take a few pieces of fruit, fat free yogurt or string cheese to work for mid-morning and afternoon snacks.

3. Keep a bowl of fruit on your kitchen table. If it's visible and available, most family members will grab a piece.

4. Drink low-sodium vegetable juice for vegetables on the go without the extra salt.

5. Whip up a quick smoothie in the morning, made with skim milk and a banana or frozen fruit.

Add 2-3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products to contribute calcium. Include lean protein, whole grains and unsalted nuts, which are rich in magnesium, at meals and throughout the day to round out your diet.

You can learn more about the NHLBI's DASH dietary guidelines for hypertension at their website:

Katherine Klingle is a registered and licensed dietitian. Send questions or comments to



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