Hypertension, i.e., elevated blood pressure, is often seen in overweight or obese individuals, those with a sedentary lifestyle, and those who smoke or drink in excess. These factors make it more difficult to control high blood pressure despite progressively increasing the dose of the various medications used to control hypertension.
Other individuals may have none of the above concerns, but might be genetically predisposed to develop hypertension at some point in life. They, too, must be aware of the potential risk factors and maintain a lifestyle that helps spare them the ill-effects of hypertension. A growing body of evidence shows that genetic factors do affect blood pressure levels and the response to positive dietary changes. Most of the currently available evidence pertains to genetic factors that influence the hypertensive response to sodium, i.e., salt intake.
Controlling hypertension requires a multi-pronged approach, including making changes to your diet and lifestyle. It is indeed possible to lower your blood pressure (BP) and reduce your dependence on BP medications.
For uncomplicated stage I hypertension, defined as a systolic BP of 140 to 159 mm Hg or a diastolic BP of 90 to 99 mm Hg, dietary modifications are the first line of treatment before initiating any drug therapy. For hypertensive patients already on medication, lifestyle modifications, and reduced sodium intake can further lower BP and reduce dependence on higher doses to keep it under control.
The DASH Dietary Approach to lowering blood pressure
The simplest way to start is by building better food habits and seeking personalized nutrition to achieve (or maintain) a healthy weight. Counting calories and monitoring portion sizes is essential, but scientists recommend the Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan as well. Over the past decade, increased potassium intake and following the DASH diet have turned out to be effective strategies for lowering high blood pressure. In particular, its efficacy is high in African-Americans and older individuals, which highlights its value from a public health perspective.
The most effective combination of factors in reducing high blood pressure includes:
- Attaining a healthy weight
- Eating according to the DASH plan
- Reducing dietary sodium intake
- Potassium supplementation
- Keeping blood sugar in control
- Regular physical activity, and
- Practicing moderation in alcohol intake
Furthermore, a low-protein diet has been shown to improve renal function in people with diabetes.
The DASH eating plan includes foods low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol. It places emphasis on the intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, and low-fat dairy foods. From a nutrient perspective, it is high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and has adequate protein and fiber. Processed foods that are high in sodium content, red meats, sugary beverages, and sweets are best avoided. If you are trying to lose weight in addition to trying to control your hypertension, the DASH eating plan still works; however, you need to implement it at the appropriate lower-calorie level to see a difference in weight.