Many diets claim to help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure, but do they work? Here is a look at some of the most popular diets for hypertension (high blood pressure):
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). A plan devised by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), DASH emphasizes eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products and lesser amounts of meat, fish, poultry, and sugars. It suggests limiting salt intake to 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day, or even better, to 1,500 mgs. “The DASH diet is the only diet that has scientific data to prove that it lowers blood pressure,” says Caroline M. Apovian, MD, FACP, FACN, director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center. “We don’t know why it works, but we assume it is the combination of a diet of low-fat dairy and lean protein and one that is rich in fruits and vegetables that is somehow important.” It is thought that the protein, fiber, and minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium) in these nutrient-rich foods play a role in lowering blood pressure. Reducing sodium intake is also beneficial.
Mediterranean Diet. Like DASH, the Mediterranean Diet includes healthy amounts of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and nuts, and limits red meats to avoid unhealthy fats. It encourages the use of monounsaturated fats (mainly olive oil) in cooking, which is traditional among people of the Mediterranean region. This diet focuses on the types of fat (healthy fats) consumed rather than the amount of fat. It also includes red wine in moderation — no more than a glass a day. “The Mediterranean Diet is recognized for its role in reducing cardiovascular risk factors, one of which is high blood pressure,” says Andrea Frank, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago.
The Ornish Diet. Developed by Dean Ornish, MD, this diet is an extremely low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian diet. Less than 10 percent of calories should come from fat. Some research suggests that the Ornish Diet can lower cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, Frank says, “but any diet that eliminates food groups may be difficult to adhere to and thus may not be ideal for everyone.”
The South Beach Diet. Started by South Beach, Florida preventive cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD, this diet is divided into three phases. Phase one restricts certain types of sugars and carbohydrates, fruits, and some higher-glycemic vegetables. During phase two, you continue with the restrictions from phase one but gradually add whole grains and fruits back into your meal plan. Phase three begins once a healthy weight is achieved and the focus is on maintaining your new weight for life. Frank’s opinion of the South Beach Diet is the same as of the Ornish Diet: It may have some heart-healthy benefits but it is difficult to stick to, especially for life.
The bottom line: “Making a commitment to consume a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in fat and sodium can make play a huge role in reducing or even preventing high blood pressure,” Frank says.
Indeed, Dr. Apovian says, making dietary changes should be your first step to lowering your blood pressure. “Doctors often will send patients to see a dietitian before they initiate medication for blood pressure,” she says.
However, Apovian cautions, even if you adopt a heart-healthy diet, if you suspect that you may have high blood pressure, you should consult a physician.
Everyday Health, Inc