The Mediterranean and DASH Diets — Evidenced Based Approaches to Improve Blood Pressure

Yesterday, I posted about rates of blood pressure rising, and the fact that nearly a fifth of the global population suffers from high blood pressure.  Today, I’d like to talk more specifically about dietary factors that are associated with achieving a lower blood pressure.  I’d like to give a basic overview of two eating patterns that can each be quite effective.

Both the Mediterranean and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets have plenty of clinical research supporting their blood pressure lowering effect.  Even though I’m focused on blood pressure lowering here, I’d be remiss not to mention that these diets are also associated with a lower cardiovascular risk in general (i.e., lower “bad” cholesterol, higher “good” cholesterol, a reduced risk of heart attack/stroke, and the list goes on).

Most of the people reading are probably interested in what they can do to lower their blood pressure or their heart disease risk, so let’s get right to it.  After I go over the basics of both the diets I also want to talk about small changes that can be made to begin incorporating some of these dietary characteristics – very rarely does someone overhaul their diet overnight!

Here are the basic hallmarks of the Mediterranean diet:

▪    The eating pattern as a whole emphasizes plant based foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts
▪    Olive oil is the primary fat used in cooking and in dressings/sauces
▪    Salt is generally not used to flavor foods
▪    Fish and poultry are emphasized over red meat
▪    Red wine in moderation

And here are the basic hallmarks of the DASH diet:

▪    Allowance for up to 2300 mg sodium per day (this is a challenge for most people and does involve considerable thought and meal planning – I wouldn’t worry if you don’t hit this strict goal immediately or let it be discouraging)
▪    The eating pattern as a whole emphasizes plant based foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts
▪    Encourages choosing lean protein with an emphasis on poultry and fish over red meat
▪    Dietary pattern encourages limiting fat intake and added sugars

Notice any similarities?  These two diets have a lot of overlap.  I tend to guide my clients toward the Mediterranean diet first depending on their personality.  The DASH diet includes more specific guidelines around eating, such as the sodium upper limit, and it also goes into specific servings to consume from each food group.  In other words, it’s more rigid and more difficult to follow.  That being said it is also very effective for blood pressure lowering and does have it’s place.

So what steps can you adopt today to incorporate some of these diets’ characteristics into your own eating pattern?  Of course that depends on where you’re starting.  Think about how the way you eat is different from the guidelines above and how you may be able to make some small changes to get started.  Here are some ideas:

▪    Start a tradition of going an entire day without eating meat or animal products – Meatless Monday is a great place to start, and here’s a wonderful resource!
▪    Adopt a smoothie habit – this is a great way to get your fruit servings and something the whole family can enjoy experimenting with
▪    Get all the salty and sugary snacks and desserts you tend to overeat OUT of the house!  Some people can have these and moderate their eating, but I find this is the exception to the rule.
▪    Keep a colorful fruit bowl on the counter, and maybe some unsalted mixed nuts, then keep all other foods in the pantry or fridge
▪    Try to use olive oil more than butter or other fats in your cooking
▪    Challenge yourself to use herbs and spices rather than salt.  If you cook with salt a lot, this may be hard to deal with at first but your taste buds will adapt!

If you do suffer from high blood pressure, adopting these changes will help most people manage it, but stay on top of your readings and make sure you are staying within the healthy range.  Keeping your blood pressure under control is crucial to maintain good health, and I cannot stress that enough.  If you think you’d like additional assistance or accountability with your diet to help get your blood pressure under control – or to see if you may be able to wean off your blood pressure lowering medications (we would work closely with your doctor if this is your goal), please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s