Navigating Both Diabetes and Hypertension

According to the American Diabetes Association, 2 out of 3 people with diabetes have high blood pressure (hypertension) or take medication to lower their blood pressure. High blood pressure means the heart has to work harder to pump blood, which can cause a heart attack or stroke. Hypertension is when the systolic (top number) is 130 or greater or the diastolic (bottom number) is 80 mmHg or greater. These numbers refer to how our hearts pump blood in and out of the heart.  

Doing a good job of managing both your high blood pressure and diabetes means you have to pay attention to what you are eating. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is usually recommended to reduce blood pressure.  The DASH diet’s main focus is to include more colorful and whole foods while limiting sodium, fatty meats, full-fat dairy, processed foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages.  More natural and whole foods like whole grains add in additional essential minerals, vitamins, fiber, and omega 3 fatty acids which are all important to a healthy diet. Diabetes meal plans usually focus on the number of carbohydrates and calories, which is a different focus than DASH eating plans.  Putting these together can be a challenge. 

To follow a diet for both your heart health and diabetes, it is important to monitor your blood glucose more often and be aware of the timing and amount of carbohydrates consumed. Carbs should be balanced better throughout the day. If you are taking insulin, glucose levels should be frequently monitored on the DASH diet. The DASH diet is flexible and does not require you to take foods you love away, but rather adds more colorful foods.  These foods may cause carbohydrates to increase. You may need to work with your dietitian to make sure the total calories and carb units fit your diabetes self-management plan. 

The volume of the servings in the DASH diet plan may differ from those outlined in carb counting educational materials. Examples of daily servings on a DASH diet are written in the chart below:  

  DASH Serving Examples Carb Units
Fruits 4-5 servings medium apple or banana, 6 oz orange juice, 1/2 cup blueberries 1 apple = 1 carb unit, 6 oz orange juice = 1 carb unit 
Vegetables 4-5 servings 1 cup raw spinach, 1/2 cup cooked broccoli 1/2 cup cooked broccoli = < .5 carb unit
Dairy 2-3 servings of low or non-fat dairy products 8 oz of milk, 1 cup yogurt 8 oz/ 1 cup of milk = 1 carb unit
Fats/ Oils 2-3 servings of olive oil and healthy fats 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 cup or small handful of nuts 1 tablespoon olive oil = 0 carb units
Poultry, Fish, Lean Meats 6 or fewer servings of lean meat, poultry, and fish per day 3 oz/ size of a deck of cards of chicken, salmon, pork 3 oz salmon = 0 carb units, 1 chicken breast = 0 carb units 
Sweets 5 or fewer servings per week depending on your meal plan 8 oz lemonade, 1/2 chocolate bar, 1 tbsp sugar or jam  carb units vary