The DASH Diet is a low-sodium eating habit with powerful nutrition and health benefits.

Several factors that you can control make a huge impact on whether you develop high blood pressure.

In this column, I’m focusing on how you can prevent and manage high blood pressure with the types of food you eat and with the dietary salt you consume. You can still enjoy your meals and keep pleasure on your plate, if you keep a few important caveats in mind.

One is the amount of salt you eat.

Why is keeping your daily salt (sodium) intake under 2,400 milligrams a day (about a teaspoon) so important? Because salt attracts water and pulls it into your blood vessels, increasing your blood volume, and eventually your blood pressure. Most of us eat far more sodium than that. Research shows that by keeping your sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams per day, you can lower your blood pressure significantly.

How do we do it? By learning where the salt in your diet is coming from.

Highly processed packaged, boxed or prepared foods contribute about 70% of the sodium we consume. So steer clear of them and eat more whole foods like fresh, frozen or canned low-sodium vegetables and fruit. Rinsing canned foods lowers salt by up to 40%.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension) diet is an eating pattern that has been clinically proven beneficial for lowering blood pressure, delivering powerful nutrition and health benefits, and can even promote weight loss. The DASH diet includes lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, beans, seeds and low-fat dairy products.

This amazing variety of foods are low in salt and saturated fat, and high in fiber, potassium, calcium and magnesium — all essential for keeping blood pressure at a healthy level. It’s a deliciously simple way of eating that I’ve been enjoying for a long time because my husband has high blood pressure. These are the foods that will make a difference in your health now and for years to come.

You also can reduce your salt intake by flavoring foods with fresh or dried herbs, vinegars, no-salt spice blends (such as Mrs. Dash, my favorite). At the grocery store, buy low-salt canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, skip deli and processed meats and boxed rice and pasta mixes. Instead, try Lundberg whole grain rice mixes or others that contain no added salt.

Processed meats such as bacon, sausage and jerky, and condiments such as ketchup, mustard or gravy, and fast foods all should be avoided.

To identify high-sodium foods, scan the ingredient list for words such as “brined,” “marinated,” “smoked,” “baking soda,” “salt flakes,” “monosodium glutamate (MSG),” “pickled,” “savory” and “seasoned.” If salt is one of the top three ingredients, consider making the same dish from scratch. Put the processed product back on the shelf.

First published in The Daily Herald