Chris Zellers, MPP -Assistant Professor/Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences Department
New Year’s Resolutions often involve setting goals to lose weight. While maintaining a healthy weight is important, trying to lose weight quickly by eliminating certain foods or only eating specific foods is not a healthy eating pattern and often can not be maintained. Using the word diet to mean reducing or excluding foods is not healthy long term, however using the word diet to describe an eating pattern that includes a well-balanced intake of food is beneficial. An example of a good diet is the DASH diet which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet has been studied since the 1990s and has been proven to reduce the effects of High blood pressure. If you are at risk for hypertension or have been told by your doctor that you have high blood pressure adopting the DASH eating pattern may help.
There are certain lifestyle factors that are associated with reduction in blood pressure including weight loss, a healthy diet, reduced intake of dietary sodium, increased consumption of potassium, moderate alcohol consumption and of course physical activity. Unfortunately, there are some unmodifiable factors that could contribute to high blood pressure like age, race, ethnicity, gender, and family history. To counterbalance what can’t be controlled focus on what can be modified for better blood pressure by maintaining a healthy weight, controlling abnormal lipids, quitting smoking, engaging in regular physical activity, reducing alcohol, and eating a healthy balanced diet. High blood pressure that is not controlled can lead to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke, kidney damage, and vision problems. The DASH diet offers scientific evidence for blood pressure control.
The basic format of the DASH diet is to eat more whole foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. The DASH diet includes foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium all of which are nutrients that help control blood pressure. Low fat dairy, avocados, salmon, spinach, dark chocolate, nuts, and legumes are example of foods that are high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Enjoy protein that is lean and keep red meat, sugary beverages, and sweets to a minimum. Make sure to eat foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol by avoiding butter, cakes, processed meats, fatty cuts of meat and sweets. The average American adult consumes 3,000-4,000 milligrams per day of sodium which is well above the recommended intake of less than 2,300 milligrams per day. DASH works best when sodium is lower in the diet. Foods that are high in sodium should be eaten in moderation. Examples of high sodium foods include restaurant and fast-food meals, processed foods that are canned and frozen with sauces, and condiments. Processed meats like cold cuts, cured meats, breads and rolls, pizza, soups both canned and prepared, burritos and tacos also have a high sodium content and should be avoided. The high salt content list also includes savory snacks including chips, popcorn, pretzels, cheese, and sandwiches. Keeping high sodium foods to a minimum and enjoying whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy will make the DASH diet most effective in keeping blood pressure regulated.
In addition to keeping sodium low and eating foods that are high in potassium calcium and magnesium there are other tips that make the DASH diet easy to follow. Read the nutrition facts label and choose items that are lower in salt. Items like convenience foods and condiments are usually higher in sodium. Choose fresh poultry, fish, and lean meats instead of cured food such as bacon and ham for less salt intake and pick fresh or frozen versus canned fruits and vegetables. If canned vegetables are the only option, try to purchase the low sodium product or rinse them off before using to reduce sodium levels. When grocery shopping, shop the perimeter of the store where healthier, leaner, low sodium products are found. Limit salt when cooking and add taste without salt by flavoring with herbs and spices. Flavor your foods with salt-free seasoning blends, fresh or dried herbs and spices, or fresh lemon or lime juice. For a salty taste without the sodium try incorporating vinegar into your cooking. Apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar are all sodium free and have a more intense flavor.
For more information on the DASH diet, come to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County’s virtual Lunch and Learn on February 24th at 12:15. Register at: https://rutgers.zoom.us/j/91354147643?pwd=cDB5bmVFN2dLclNWS0crcWJXVzRJZz09