Practicing Mindfulness May Make It Easier to Follow the DASH Diet, a New Study Shows

Participants focused on mindfulness skills like meditation, yoga and self-awareness.

<p>Photographer: Jason Donnelly, Styling: Greg Luna and Sue Mitchell</p>

Photographer: Jason Donnelly, Styling: Greg Luna and Sue Mitchell

Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD

Pictured Recipe: Portobello Mushroom Pizzas with Arugula Salad

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common and potentially serious condition that can cause cardiovascular disease, stroke and kidney disease. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, almost half of all U.S. adults have hypertension. And only about 1 in 4 of those adults have it under control.

If you’re one of the over 48% of U.S. adults with hypertension, your health care practitioner may have recommended that you follow the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is an evidence-based way of eating that has been shown to help lower blood pressure.

If you’ve ever tried following a specific diet, you know it can be difficult. But new research suggests that practicing mindfulness may be the key to diet adherence—and ultimately reduced blood pressure.

The 2023 study, published in JAMA Network Open, randomly assigned 201 men and women with high blood pressure to one of two groups. One group acted as the control group and received the usual care for hypertension. Usual care included receiving a blood pressure monitor to use at home and referral to primary care for follow-up for hypertension. They also received an American Heart Association brochure about hypertension and how to control it.

The other group received a blood pressure monitor for home use, as well. In addition, they attended a Mindfulness-Based Blood Pressure Reduction (MB-BP) program, which consisted of a group orientation session, eight 2.5-hour weekly group sessions and a 7.5-hour one-day group session for a total of 10 sessions. It was recommended that they practice mindfulness at home for at least 45 minutes per day, six days per week.

The purpose of the MB-BP program was to build a foundation of mindfulness skills that were then directed toward adherence to behaviors that have been shown to help reduce blood pressure. Mindfulness skills include meditation, yoga, self-awareness, attention control (concentration) and emotion regulation (the ability to effectively manage your emotions).

Behaviors that have been shown to help lower blood pressure include adhering to the DASH diet, engaging in physical activity, reducing alcohol intake and taking prescribed medication.

Both groups completed two main assessments to measure baseline data. The first was an assessment to measure interoceptive awareness, which is how well you notice feelings inside your body, like hunger and fullness. The second evaluated their dietary intake and how closely it fell within the guidelines of the DASH diet.

What Did the Study Show?

The study lasted six months, at which time, all assessments were repeated. The findings showed that the MB-BP group had improved interoceptive awareness scores compared to the control group. The MB-BP group also had higher scores related to the DASH diet, which meant that they had greater adherence to it compared to the control group.

Researchers theorize that mindfulness training influences diet through the three areas previously mentioned: self-awareness, attention control and emotion regulation. For example, if you are more self-aware, you might be more likely to notice your hunger and fullness cues—part of interoceptive awareness. And you may pay more attention to your eating behaviors. If you’ve sharpened your attention control, you may be more mindful of buying healthier foods and pay attention to foods’ texture, smell and appearance. If you practice emotion regulation, you might be less likely to engage in emotional eating and more likely to practice self-compassion and body kindness.

While the study does not specifically state whether participants’ blood pressures improved, it could be theorized that over time, those adhering to the DASH diet would also experience improved blood pressure, since this way of eating has been shown to do just that.

It’s important to note that mindfulness meditation has also been shown to lower blood pressure. So the combination of the DASH diet with a mindfulness practice would most likely increase the chances of lowering your blood pressure.

The Bottom Line

Blood pressure is a common, and potentially dangerous, condition that many people don’t know they have. It’s important to know your numbers and do what you can to prevent or manage your blood pressure. Following the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet can help.

Other healthy blood pressure lifestyle habits include moving your body more, managing your stressors, getting plenty of quality sleep and spending time with family and friends. And start incorporating more mindfulness activities into your day and paying attention to your choices. This will help as you work to create new healthy habits—and stick with them.

Read the original article on Eating Well.