Using the DASH Diet to Lower Your Parent’s Blood Pressure
If your parent has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, their doctor may have advised them to follow the DASH diet to help reduce and manage their blood pressure. You might be left wondering what the DASH diet is and how difficult it will be to follow. Learning more about the DASH diet will help you to assist your parent in following the diet and make it easier to plan meals.
What is the DASH Diet?
DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a diet plan that is meant to be a lifelong change to the way a person eats. The goal of the plan is to prevent or treat high blood pressure by reducing dietary sodium and increasing nutrients that help to lower blood pressure. However, because the DASH diet is an overall healthy diet, it also helps reduce risks for other serious health problems, like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people who follow the DASH diet may be able to lower their systolic pressure by a few numbers in just a couple of weeks. Over time, the diet can help to reduce systolic pressure by up to 14 points.
There are two versions of the diet, the standard DASH diet and the lower sodium DASH diet. The standard diet allows for up to 2,300 mg of sodium per day, while the lower sodium diet allows for 1,500 mg daily.
What Do People on the DASH Diet Eat?
The DASH diet focuses on a healthy balanced diet by:
- Limiting sodium, red meats, and sugar.
- Encouraging fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
- Allowing whole grains, poultry, fish, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils.
Here’s a look at the general recommendations for the food groups:
- Grains: 6 to 8 servings per day.
- Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings per day.
- Dairy: 2 to 3 servings per day.
- Fruits: 4 to 5 servings per day.
- Poultry, fish, & lean meats: 6 or less servings per day.
- Oils and fats: 2 or 3 servings per day.
- Seeds, legumes, & nuts: 4 to 5 servings per week.
- Sweets: No more than 5 servings per week.
How Can My Parent Get Started?
The experts at WebMD recommend starting the diet slowly if you think it will be a difficult change for your parent. Start with lowering the amount of sodium they eat each day to about 2,400 mg, then gradually lower that amount until they are within a healthy range. Remember that sodium doesn’t come just from table salt, but from all the foods your parent eats, so read labels for sodium content. You can also add extra fruits and vegetables gradually. Add a serving of vegetables to dinner and offer fresh fruit as snacks.
If your parent struggles to eat well, hiring an elder care provider can help. Many seniors eat poorly because cooking becomes more difficult for them as they age or because they do not enjoy eating alone. An elder care provider can prepare meals and snacks for your parent that follow the DASH diet. They can also sit with your parent while they eat to make the meal more enjoyable.