Silence may be golden – but not when it comes to blood pressure. We need to sound the alarm around the importance of managing the leading risk factor for heart-related diseases and death. In fact, nearly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure or hypertension. Recognizing that one’s health risk rises as blood pressure increases, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) in 2017 issued new guidelines lowering the parameters for the diagnosis of hypertension. In general, an individual is considered to have hypertension if their blood pressure reading is greater than 130/80 mm Hg (milligrams of mercury) or if they are taking medication for high blood pressure.

Know your Numbers

High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because too often we aren’t aware that we have a problem. In fact, 1 in 3 US adults are not aware of or are not being treated for high blood pressure. Our bodies don’t have an external gauge to tell us that our pumping system is under too much pressure until it reaches extreme levels. Chronic high pressure wreaks havoc on our cardiovascular system.

If you’re thinking, “my blood pressure is fine, this doesn’t apply to me”, consider that 90% of us will go on to develop high blood pressure in our lifetime. But the hopeful news is that there is well-documented evidence we can lower the risk by embracing the principles promoted in the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet, and Pritikin Eating Plan alike.

The DASH Diet Clinical Trial

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a time-tested approach to leveraging food as a first line therapy for preventing and treating high blood pressure. More than twenty years ago, a multi-centered research study hypothesized that high blood pressure could be positively impacted by increased consumption of calcium-rich foods and potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, along with reduced sodium intake. The results were impressive.

What We Eat Matters

The combination of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and a low sodium intake did in fact significantly lower both systolic BP (SBP) and diastolic BP (DBP) compared to the Control group which consumed a typical American diet.

Researchers also asked subjects in both the Control group and the DASH group to consume one of three different levels of sodium intake – a high (3,300 mg), intermediate (2,500 mg), and low (1,500 mg) amount of sodium per day. Results showed that blood pressure levels lowered in both the Control group and the DASH group in parallel to the sodium intake. In other words, there was a direct linear effect – the lower the sodium intake, the lower the blood pressure. The DASH diet is still recognized as one of the best overall eating plans and according to the latest US News and World report poll.

Common Core Characteristics of Healthy Eating Plans

The core components of the DASH diet, Pritikin Eating Plan, and the Mediterranean Diet are consistent in the daily recommendations of including a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, and lentils, moderate amounts of seafood and low fat or fat-free dairy, and limited amounts of other lean animal protein and added oils. Since its inception, the Pritikin Eating Plan has recommended a low sodium intake. Like the low sodium DASH group, the Pritikin Eating Plan offers the additional blood pressure-lowering benefit documented in peer-reviewed research.

I’m awed by the power of food – the right foods. In fact, dietary recommendations are indeed the cornerstone of current blood pressure management by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association independent of medication use. Imagine a culture where food was prescribed as medicine. The anti-hypertension prescription pad would read:

Graphic of a perscription pad reading: "Daily RX: -5 or more servings of vegetables, -4 servings of fruit, -5 servings of whole grains, -2 servings of calcium rich fat free dairy..."

Instead of the pharmacy, we can head to the grocery store. I guarantee fulfilling that prescription will taste better than a pill!