Ginger, garlic and dark chocolate all can help ease the condition, Calorie Countess Jennifer Burton says.

Hypertension and high blood pressure afflict millions of Americans.

Left untreated, both conditions can have serious consequences, including stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.

While there are many pharmaceutical options available for people with hypertension and high blood pressure, those looking for a natural alternative might want to consider DASH – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

The DASH diet encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. Components of the DASH diet include eating four to five servings of fruit, four to five servings of vegetables, two to three servings of dairy products each day and four to five servings of nuts, seeds and legumes each week.

Sodium should be limited to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, and alcoholic beverages to no more than one a day for women and two for men. Studies have shown that following the DASH diet can reduce blood pressure several points in just two weeks.

Other natural foods to consider:

Ginger appears to play a role in the viscosity of our blood, making it thinner and therefore reducing blood clotting. It helps block the flow of calcium into heart cells and blood vessels, eliciting a similar response to commonly prescribed calcium channel blockers. Standard doses range from 75 to 2,000 milligrams, but supplements are not for everyone. Ginger easily can be added to your everyday diet instead of taking a supplement. And because ginger can interfere with some medications, it is best to check with your physician before taking a supplement.

Studies suggest that garlic reduces blood pressure two ways. First it can reduce the ability of platelets to stick together, easing blood flow. Also, it relaxes blood vessels, which reduces stress on the heart. Garlic supplements can be controversial, so it's best to incorporate more raw garlic into your diet. Just one clove a day is enough to show improvement. Because garlic can thin the blood, it is important to limit the amount if you take blood-thinning drugs or are undergoing surgery within a two-week period.

Flavanols in dark chocolate stimulate the production of nitric acid, which allows blood vessels to relax and dilate. Research shows that even small amounts of cocoa or dark chocolate can modestly reduce blood pressure. Dark chocolate, in small amounts, is a great treat when you are reducing other items in your diet. But other lifestyle changes, such as meditation and exercise, can produce greater reductions in blood pressure than chocolate alone.

It's important to take hypertension and high blood pressure seriously. A change in diet can produce significant results.

Jennifer Burton, a registered dietitian, works for the McConnell Heart Health Center.