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Making changes to your diet is a proven way to help control high blood pressure. These changes can also help you to lose weight and lower your chance of heart disease and stroke.

Your provider can refer you to a dietician who can help you create a healthy meal plan.

What can you do?

  • Eat a heart healthy diet like the DASH eating plan
  • Limit salty and processed foods and eating out
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
  • See a dietician to learn how to eat right

The DASH Eating Plan

The low salt Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is proven to lower blood pressure. The DASH plan focuses on fruits and vegetables, fat-free and low-fat dairy products. It includes whole grains, beans, fish, poultry, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils. It limits sodium, sweets, sugary beverages and red meats. The DASH plan is low in saturated and trans fats that are not good for your heart. It is rich in potassium, magnesium, fiber and protein. Speak with your provider about the DASH plan if you have chronic kidney disease because the DASH plan may not be appropriate for you.

Type of Fat Foods with this type of fat Included in the DASH plan?
Unsaturated fats Soybean, canola, olive, and sunflower oil

Liquid or soft tub margarines

Omega 3 fatty acids Fatty, cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines)

Flaxseed oil and ground flaxseed

Saturated fats Animal fats (fatty meats, whole milk, butter, cream)

Palm, palm kernel and coconut oil

Trans fats Hydrogenated oil used in foods such as fried foods, crackers, chips, baked goods No

Limiting salt in your diet

Eat less salt to lower blood pressure. Eating too much salt is a big cause of high blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be.

How does sodium (salt) affect your heart and kidneys?

Where salt goes, water goes. When you eat salty foods, the salt goes into your blood stream and water follows it. You may notice swelling in your hands, feet or face. This extra water raises the volume of your blood and causes your blood pressure to rise. Your heart has to work harder to pump the extra amount of blood through your blood vessels. If your blood pressure is high, it can cause damage to your kidneys and heart.

How to Read a Food Label for Salt Content

Packaged foods have a label that tells you the amount of sodium per serving in that food.

Look for the serving size at the top of the label.

Then, look for the amount of sodium in that serving of the food in the middle of the label.

If the food contains more than 200 mg of sodium, you should decrease the size of the serving or find a substitute for that food.

Low Sodium Guidelines

Salt is found in many foods, especially in canned and processed foods. Decreasing the amount of sodium you eat will help keep extra fluid out of your body and your blood pressure from being too high. Not eating a large amount of sodium at one time will also help.

Experts disagree on the right amount of sodium in the diet, but a reasonable goal for most people with hypertension is to limit sodium intake to less than 2400 milligrams (mg) per day:

  • 700 mg per meal (3 meals per day)
  • 200 mg per snack (1 snack per day)

Planning ahead, preparing most meals at home from fresh ingredients, reading food labels and eating balanced meals will help keep your sodium intake lower.

Most sodium comes from salt. Keep in mind that most of this salt is already added to prepared foods. Here are some ways to reduce the salt in your diet:

Avoid Table Salt

1 teaspoon of table salt = 2300 mg sodium

This is almost the total amount you should have for the entire day!

Avoid Processed Foods

Examples include canned foods, frozen meals, snack foods, “instant” foods, packaged meals, most cheeses, deli meats, canned meats, pickles and pickled foods, cured or smoked meats, and pre-packaged ready-to-eat and boxed dishes. Some processed foods say “low sodium” or “low salt,” but may still have too much sodium. CHECK THE LABEL!

Avoid Sauces and Seasonings

Examples include bouillon cubes, broths, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, and salad dressings. Some sauces and seasonings say “low sodium” or “low salt” but they may still have too much sodium. Be sure to check the label!

You can use salt substitutes. Some patients may need to limit how much they use salt substitutes because they contain potassium. If you have had problems with high potassium, you should not use salt substitutes. Ask your health care provider if you are not sure. Some examples of salt substitutes are McCormick salt-free seasoning, Nu Salt, and Morton’s Salt Substitute. You can also use these herbs and spices in place of salt:

  • Pepper
  • Mrs. Dash
  • Garlic/garlic powder
  • Oregano
  • Dill
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Pepper (no salt added)
  • Onion/onion powder
  • Rosemary
  • Cinnamon
  • Basil
  • Sage
  • Paprika
  • Turmeric
  • Dry mustard
  • Curry powder


Helpful Tips

  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables (without sauces) and fruits
  • Use “No Salt Added” canned vegetables
  • Remember, many “low sodium” and “low salt” foods still have TOO MUCH SALT!
  • When eating out, ask for your meal to be cooked without salt
  • Request sauces and salad dressings to be “on the side” so that you can use less
  • Limit condiments
  • Limit eating out to one time per week
  • Avoid packaged, processed and pre-made foods
  • Get rid of the salt shaker and seasonings that have salt in them

More information and tips for reducing sodium intake can be found in the “Limiting your salt intake” section of this site.

Losing Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for blood pressure control. Even a small weight loss of 10 pounds can help to decrease blood pressure in people who are overweight. Ask your doctor or a member of your medical team what a healthy weight is for you.

Weight Loss Tips:

  • Eat 4-5 small meals per day.
  • Listen to your body. When you are full, stop eating.
  • Drink plenty of calorie-free drinks (water, unsweetened tea or coffee). You may be thirsty, not hungry.
  • Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy (milk, cheese and yogurt).
  • Eat high fiber foods including vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains.
  • Cut back on sugar including juice, soda and sweets such as cakes, cookies and candies.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol (beer, wine, and liquor) that you drink.
  • Eat in one place only, such as at the kitchen table. Don’t eat in the car, bedroom or while watching TV.
  • Cook without adding fat (bake, broil, roast, boil). Use nonstick cooking sprays instead of butter or oil.
  • Make half of your plate fruits and/or vegetables.
  • Drink water while you cook and during meals.
  • Use smaller plates, bowls, glasses, and serving spoons.
  • Use measuring cups and spoons for proper portion control (see BELOW).
  • Do not put serving dishes on the table. This will make it harder to take a second portion.
  • Make mealtime special by using pretty dishes, napkins, and glasses.
  • Eat slowly. Put your fork down between bites. Cut your food one bite at a time.
  • Enjoy fruit for dessert instead of cake, pie, or other sweets.
  • Leave a few bites of each food on your plate.
  • Remove your plate as soon as you have finished eating.

Talk with your doctor and medical team about a healthy meal plan that is right for you!

A 3-day food log can be downloaded from this site. Complete this prior to your next visit and review with the dietician or health care provider.

Portion Control for Weight Loss

Portion size matters. Research has shown that people consistently eat more food when offered larger sized portions. Therefore portion control is important when you are trying to lose weight and keep it off. When measuring portion size, you do not need to carry around measuring cups. Instead, use your hand as a guide.

For example, 1 portion of meat or fish is 3 ounces. Three ounces is about the size of the palm of your hand. Likewise, 1 portion of cheese is about the size of your thumb. Your hand makes it easy for you to imagine healthy portion sizes! 

Physical Activity

Adults need at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week. Physical activity increases strength and endurance, makes your heart, lungs and bones stronger, helps you think and concentrate better, and helps with mood and self-esteem. It also lowers the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and weight gain.

Talk with your provider before starting a new exercise program.

How to be More Active

  • Limit TV, video games and computer time
  • Be active with a friend or family member
  • Change your activities to prevent boredom and burnout
  • Schedule regular times for activities
  • Have someone keep you to your routine
  • Use music during your activities

Suggested Activities

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Team sports
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Tennis

Start out with small goals. You can begin with 20 minutes of exercise, 2 days per week, and then slowly increase the number of days per week and the length of time that you exercise.

  • Find a walking trail near you
  • Check out activities at state parks
  • Schedule time with friends that involves physical activity
  • Use a work-out video

Use an exercise journal to track your activity.

“Cardio” = fast walking, swimming, biking, hiking, running, dancing. These exercises increase your heart rate, make you breathe deeply and use muscle groups.

Strength = weight lifting, resistance bands, sit-ups. These exercises target muscles and help to build strength.

Start with 10 to 15 minutes per day and increase the time each week toward a goal of 30 to 60 minutes per day. Include both “cardio” and strength exercises in your fitness program.