What makes you feel concerned about your loved ones? Is it something to do with their frequent eating out, that too salty and oily food, staying up late or taking to smoking and drinking, or leading a very sedentary life with little physical activity?
These bad eating and sleeping habits coupled with lack of exercise can induce a long list of ailments. Hypertension is probably one of the most common lifestyle diseases that afflicts most urban dwellers.
Hypertension, the ‘silent killer’, can be easily prevented or managed if we make a conscious decision to keep our eating practices in check and include simple physical activities in our daily life. When we start doing this, we are on our way to health and happiness.
About 33% of urban Indians have been diagnosed with hypertension and only one-fifth of them have their blood pressure under control, which is alarming as hypertension is the leading cause of several life-threatening ailments like heart disease, kidney failure, etc.
Causes of Hypertension
The actual cause of hypertension in more than 90% of those diagnosed with high blood pressure is unknown but there are several risk factors, like the ones listed below, that can trigger a spike in your blood pressure.
- Obesity, which is a primary risk factor.
- Excess of salt (or sodium) in diet, which is a national habit
- Low intake of potassium in foods.
- Lower levels of Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, 80-90% of which we get directly from the sun.
- Lack of exercise and physical movements.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol.
- Smoking or taking tobacco in any form.
- Diabetes or high cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) leading to high blood pressure.
These risks indicate positive changes to be done at our end in order to reverse them. And changing your diet is one of the easiest way to prevent and manage hypertension.
DASH – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension
Meet DASH, a flexible and well-balanced eating plan approach developed based on research studies sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI, USA.
These studies covered aspects of preventing and managing hypertension. The findings revealed that adopting DASH helped in lowering high blood pressure and improved blood lipid levels (that is, fats in the bloodstream), which further reduced the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The DASH diet has been ranked as the best diet for hypertension by the US News & World Report. “DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an all-purpose diet. But it certainly looked like an all-star to our panel of experts, who gave it high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health. Though obscure, it beat out a field full of better-known diets.”
It has been proven that the DASH diet lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and is associated with lower risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney stones, reduced risk of developing diabetes, and can slow the progression of kidney disease.
The Efficacy of the DASH Diet Plan
The DASH Diet, as you can make out, is mostly a plant-based diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, non-fat and low-fat dairy products, fish, and poultry to it and you get a plan that is easy to follow and good for your heart. If you are a vegetarian, you can replace fish and poultry with legumes and pulses.
(Source: nhlbi Page 9)
How to Switch Over to the DASH Diet Plan
Bringing a change in eating habits can be the toughest task for food lovers. But making small but significant changes can make the shift to the DASH Diet easier than you think.
- Cut down on your butter or margarine to half.
- Cut down on cereal mixes, flavoured rice, pasta which has added salt.
- Use fruits as desserts and low fat foods as snacks.
- If you find it difficult to digest some dairy products, you can try lactose-free milk.
- Take added nutrients such as vitamin B in the form of whole wheat breads and whole wheat cereals.
- Reduce meat to a very small portion of your meal and gradually remove it from your diet.
- Use fresh poultry, lean meat and fish, not canned or processed ones. Canned peas have 3 times more sodium than frozen peas, so avoid canned veggies too.
- Eat more of fibre-rich and colourful vegetables.
- Did you know that with herbs, garlic and onions, you can make your food spicy without adding salt and sodium? Sounds so healthy, right?
- Reduce sodium (salt) and sugar.
In addition to changing over to the DASH Diet, it is important that you
- Reduce alcohol consumption.
- Stop tobacco altogether.
- Reduce stress.
- Lose weight.
- Increase physical activity.
- Get adequate sleep.
Being Physically Active Regulates Hypertension
Taking a brisk walk in a park, bicycling inside your colony or on quiet roads, gardening, playing badminton, doing household chores, etc. are the simple exercises you can do to get your blood pressure under control.
Here are some suggestions for physical activities that you can easily include in your regular day.
(Source: nhlbi Page 7)
Try adopting these changes in your diet and exercise and see how quickly your high blood pressure comes under control. The resistance to change is only in your mind, so let go of the “I can’t do it” voice in your head and prove to yourself and the world that you can and will fight hypertension and won’t let it ruin your life.