Winning the Battle Against Hypertension: DASH Lifestyle

Many of our senior loved ones are faced with multiple chronic disease processes. Managing these conditions can be overwhelming to many seniors and failure to do so can negatively impact their quality of life.

How can they follow the doctor’s or dietitian’s diet on a budget?

Why can’t they eat all the foods they love?

Don’t they know I can’t breathe well so can’t move much?

You may have heard these or similar comments from your senior loved ones, as I have in my professional practice. Unfortunately there is no magic bullet or a way to make a positive change without some effort.

DASH Lifestyle Impacts

One way to manage chronic disease and improve the quality of life for our senior loved ones – how they feel and the energy they have to do what they want during the day, even if that is as simply as getting out of bed and getting dressed – is for them to adopt the lifestyle of the DASH program.

Because what you eat and your physical activity level affect your blood pressure, be it by causing hypertension, managing hypertension or preventing high blood pressure, it is important to be aware of the benefits of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan.

Studies have shown that lowering your intake of salt combined with other dietary and activity changes can lower blood pressure. Another aspect of the DASH program is maintaining a healthy weight through activity, portion control and meal choices.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure affects more than 65 million — or 1 in 3 — American adults. High blood pressure is common among older Americans — individuals with normal blood pressure at age 55 have a 90 percent lifetime risk for developing high blood pressure.

American Heart Association Recommendations

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be moderately physically active on most days of the week.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan, which includes foods lower in sodium.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
  • If you have high blood pressure and are prescribed medication, take it as directed

DASH Diet Plan

The principles of this eating plan include: foods that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, low sodium choices and whole grains. The sodium content daily should be 2,300 mg with a goal of 1,500 if you have hypertension.

Food groups in the meal plan are as follows for a total of 1,600/2,000 calories per day:

  • Grains                               6/6-8 servings per day with most from whole grains
  • Fruits                                3-4/4-5 per day
  • Vegetables                        4/4-5 per day
  • Milk                                   2-3/2-3 low fat milk or milk products per day
  • Lean Protein, Fish              3-6/6 ounces or less per day
  • Nuts, Seeds, Legumes        3/4-5 per week
  • Fats, Oils                            2/2-3 servings per day
  • Sweets and Added Sugars  0/Less than 5 per week

Tips for Lower Sodium

Reducing sodium in our diet takes a number of steps, as it is found in many places.

  1. Don’t use the salt shaker; try other salt free seasonings and blends to spice up the flavor.
  2. Buy fresh, low sodium/no salt added canned or frozen without sauce vegetables.
  3. Read the nutrition labels and choose those products with less than 5% Daily Value for sodium PER SERVING. 20% or more is considered high and should be avoided.
  4. Don’t add salt to the water when cooking pasta, rice or potatoes.
  5. Limit intake of salted and cured foods such as bacon, lunchmeat, hot dogs and foods made with brine such as pickles, olives, and sauerkraut.
  6. Limit processed foods with a high sodium content such as convenience items, flavored rice/pasta mixes, soups, and other prepared items.
  7. Limit high sodium condiments.
  8. Choose fresh snack foods instead of salty ones.

Some of these changes in food and activity may seem too difficult especially in the beginning. Stick with it and your taste buds will adapt to lower sodium foods. If your senior is overweight, even a 5% weight loss can help with chronic medical conditions.

Blood pressure can be unhealthy even if it stays only slightly above the normal level of less than 120/80 mmHg. The higher our blood pressure, the greater the health risk.

Let’s all try some of these meal changes and get moving for a better life in our years!

More information and meal planning guides from the National Institutes of Health, Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).