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Controlling Hypertension with Healthy Low-Fat Diet

The traditional treatment for hypertension included drugs, a diet low in sodium, weight reduction, alcohol only in moderation, and regular exercise. Data from a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) study, “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” — DASH, for short — offer strong evidence that the diet that protects your heart and reduces your risk of some forms of cancer may also help control blood pressure.

More than 50 million Americans have high blood pressure (also referred to as hypertension), a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and heart or kidney failure. The DASH diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, plus low-fat dairy products. No surprise there.

But the diet is lower in fat than the ordinary low-fat diet. The USDA/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommend that you get no more than 35 percent of your total calories from fat. DASH says to aim for no more than 27 percent.

The difference seems to make a difference. Your blood pressure is measured in two numbers that look something like this: 130/80. The first number is your systolic pressure, the force exerted against artery walls when your heart beats and pushes blood out into your blood vessels. The second, lower number is the diastolic pressure, the force exerted between beats.

When male and female volunteers with high blood pressure followed the DASH diet during clinical trials at medical centers in Boston, Massachusetts; Durham, North Carolina; Baltimore, Maryland; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, their systolic blood pressures dropped an average 11.4 points and their diastolic pressures an average 5.5 points. And unlike medication, the diet produced no unpleasant side effects — except, of course, for that occasional dream of chocolate ice cream with real whipped cream, pound cake . . . Oh well, nothing’s perfect.

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