Dash Diet: what is the eating plan to control high blood pressure

The arterial hypertension (HTA) is the factor of cardiovascular risk more frequent in Argentina. According to the National Ministry of Health, it affects one in three adults in the country. Faced with this problem, there is a diet that in the nineties was baptized with the name of Dash for its acronym in English (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), whose main objective is to regulate AHT through diet, a proposal that requires good behavior on the part of the patient, but which, according to the specialists consulted by THE NATIONbrings important benefits.

The Dash diet primarily focuses on reduce sodium intake. At the local level, more than double that recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is five grams, is usually consumed per day. The range of foods suggested for this regimen are fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and nuts, among others. Of course, depending on the patient’s needs, there are stricter versions than others and, in all cases, alcohol, unlike what happens with other healthy diets (although not low in sodium), such as the Mediterranean, is not indicated.

Specialists point out that mild high blood pressure could be regulated through the Dash diet and without the need to take medicationpixabay

According to Pablo Rodríguez, head of the Arterial Hypertension clinic at the ICBA Cardiovascular Institute, the average Argentine consumes 12 grams of sodium per day, while the most lax version of Dash allows only six grams of sodium and the strictest drops to four. Of course, the specialist clarifies that this diet is not enough to control pressure in patients with moderate or high hypertension. For those cases, the food plan must be accompanied by the corresponding medication.

“This diet was born from an investigation in which it was shown that it lowers HTA. It focuses on having a low sodium content and a high amount of nutrients or electrolytes that can help lower blood pressure. Another important issue is the relationship between sodium and potassium intake, because potassium counteracts the effect of sodium and we Argentines usually consume 16 times more sodium than potassium”, describes Rodríguez.

He adds: “Potassium is found in bananas, broccoli, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, cucumbers and some legumes. But you have to be careful with potassium because if you go to high values ​​it can be complex. We never recommend taking a potassium tablet per day, unless the patient has a significant deficit”.

Sodium increases blood pressure due to fluid retention.
Sodium increases blood pressure due to fluid retention.

Rodríguez explains that sodium increases blood pressure due to the fluid retention it generates. “Water retention causes alterations that increase pressure. That is why, for example, diuretics are used to lower blood pressure. Sodium also causes the relaxation mechanisms of the vascular wall to be altered and generates a greater tendency to vasoconstriction, as it can also impair the functioning of the kidneys”.

The specialist indicates that many products are called low in sodium when they have about 120 milligrams per 100 grams of food, and recommends looking at food labels so as not to consume excess salt. “There are some pages where one can look up the amount of sodium that each food has. A product that is widely consumed and has a very high sodium content are soup packets, even if they are classified as light. One of those soups has approximately 450 milligrams of sodium in an envelope that contains 8.3 grams of product. Another food that we also tend to consume frequently and that have a large excess of sodium are baked goods, that is, toast that is sold in packages or industrial breads. What we recommend in these cases is to buy bread without salt”, details Rodriguez.

Liliana Medvetzky, nutritionist at the British Hospital, warns that 70% of the sodium that Argentines ingest comes from processed or packaged foods, while the remaining 30% responds to what people add when cooking or eating. For this reason, the specialist recommends the Dash diet, where foods of natural origin are consumed almost exclusively.

“To follow the diet, it is recommended to eat half a plate of vegetables at noon and another at night, no more than 200 grams of meat per day (fish, poultry without skin or lean meats) and three fruits. You can also eat dried or canned fruit, but without sugar. Among the vegetables, it is good to add some that contain starch, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes or legumes. As for dairy products, they should be skimmed”, argues Medvetzky.

The specialist also proposes different methods to eat with less and less salt, such as not bringing the salt shaker to the table, cooking without this seasoning and only adding it to food when it is served, and replacing salt with lemon or other low-sodium dressings. In addition, she highlights that the consumption of salt is a matter of habit and just by starting to reduce its use in a few weeks the person will get used to it and will be able to feel other flavors more intensely.

“Of course, there are patients who must follow stricter regimens than others, but in general if a patient complies with this eating plan by 70% or 80% and you add a 30-minute walk a day, it will improve significantly. your cardiovascular health,” adds Medvetzky.

For its part, Rocío Archain, nutritionist at the Hypertension Center of the Austral Hospital, describes that one gram of salt has 400 milligrams of sodium, so, as recommended by the WHO, about 2000 milligrams of sodium could be ingested every 24 hours in an adult without underlying pathologies. While in a patient with hypertension it is recommended to consume two grams of salt per day, depending on the case.

“Something that we implemented so that patients can interpret the labels is that the product, to be considered low in sodium, must have less than 3% of the daily value that they should consume. If we go to the Argentine Food Code, there it is established that for a product to be low in sodium it must have less than 120 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams of food, and very low in sodium, it is less than 40 milligrams per hundred grams of food. . Then there are reduced foods that have 25% less than the original product, but can still have a high sodium content, for example, in the case of a sausage.