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DASH diet and hypertension

Another day, another diet! Just when you think you have heard of every type of eating plan, along comes the DASH diet. The DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension Diet, is designed to help you lower your blood pressure through health eating habits. While no diet comes with any guarantees, knowing how to make wise food choices contributes to a healthier lifestyle. If you need to break several years of poor eating choices, the DASH diet may be one way to evaluate where you can make changes for a healthier future.

DASH diet in a nutshell
The DASH diet is not so much a ‘get healthy quick and suffer’ plan. It is more like a ‘food overhaul’ designed to promote better eating habits. The idea is to load up on the fruits and veggies and low-fat dairy foods, while cutting back on the bad fats (think saturated fats) and cholesterol. It is basically the common sense approach to eating that you have heard about for years.

According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, a study conducted with patients showed improvement in overall health; blood pressure readings were much lower in just a couple of weeks as were cholesterol levels.

Of course, no eating plan fits all. Plus anytime you make changes to your diet, even for the better, you should consult with your doctor. For those worried about facing a huge struggle or finding suitable foods, your doctor can give you information regarding a new healthy eating lifestyle.

If you are in menopause or peri-menopause now, you know the toll that these years are taking on your body. Hypertension (also known as high blood pressure) is a condition that tends to build up silently in your body for years; you may not know you have it until you develop heart disease or stroke. Among the causes of hypertension, a diet high in salt and related sodium products puts you at an ever greater risk.

Sodium and salt
The problem with sodium is that in is almost everything we eat, and there is plenty of it. Sodium goes beyond the salt shaker on your table. It is used as a preservative in our convenient processed foods. Some nutritionists maintain that when companies reduced the amounts of fats in their foods, something else had to be added to compensate for taste.

The daily recommended salt intake is only 2,300 mg or just 1 teaspoon (5 ml). When a ½ cup serving of a typical canned tomato soup contains 780 mg (33% of the daily intake) it is easy to see that it does not take much to reach the daily limit. But while canned soup might make sense, check all those items in your cupboard including cookies and cereals. The sodium contents can be staggering.

DASH diet basics
The DASH diet is very similar to Canadian and American Food Guides for health eating. The following DASH diet recommendations are for males and females ages 19 and over:

Vegetables and fruits: 8 to 10 servings a day. Note that a serving is not as big as you might think: a half cup of broccoli is not very much and counts as one serving; one small carrot or half an apple; one cup of juice or a small banana; it does not take much to reach 8 or ten servings a day, or having to live on nothing but rabbit food.

Grain products: 7 to eight servings. Again, small amounts add up quickly with a lot of variety. Whole grain cereals and breads or pastas are great choices. Sounds like too much: Something to think about when eating an enormous fat filled muffin compared to four slices of rye bread.

Milk and alternatives or soy-based products: 2 to 3 servings. Just 1/2 cup is one serving, or a small yogurt.

Meats or meat alternatives including fish, legumes, or nuts: 2 to 3 servings a day. A serving is about the size of a deck of cards. Most of us consume far more meat products than we realize.

Other ways to improve your diet:
Eliminate canned and processed foods as much as possible; we all use them but sometimes we rely on them too much. Try to look for low-salt and low-sodium products and read the labels carefully.

Hide the salt shaker and get it off the table. Having to get up for salt is less appealing. Try using various herb and spice blends to add flavor.

Avoid snacks containing lots of salt. Love nuts and chips? Look for low-salt alternatives of your favorites. Experiment with spices for popcorn to add great flavors.

Some people go cold turkey, but you are more likely to stick with a new eating plan by gradually replacing the excess salt in your diet until you no longer miss it.

The DASH diet is not a life sentence of form of food punishment. Just as you learned to live with and love salt, you can learn to enjoy foods without all that sodium. Enjoy some treats now and then by all means. But do your heart a favor and help prevent high blood pressure by adopting the DASH diet as part of your new healthy lifestyle.

Need more info? Please check out the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation’s website at www.heartandstroke.on.ca for helpful information and more about the DASH diet.

Menopause, Your Doctor, and You

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