New DASH Diet Improves Heart Health

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Jan 29 2006 - 8:50pm

DASH Diet

Federal health experts kick off the new year with words of wisdom about healthy diet and reduction of long-term cardiovascular health risk. Findings for the use of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet were reported at a meeting of the American Heart Association and in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Diet Switches Some Carbs to Protein

Two carbohydrate-reduced versions of the government's DASH diet have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and long-term cardiovascular risk, researchers report. The new diet shifts about 10 percent of calories from carbohydrates to either protein-rich foods or to monounsaturated fats such as olive or canola oil. "This diet should be a frontrunner," says Dr. Frank Sacks, one of the authors of the study and a professor of medicine and nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard in Boston. "It improved the whole cardiovascular risk spectrum," notes Dr. Sacks. "A lot of patients are tough to control with the medications we have. Patients might not even need drugs if they go on the diet." "This is a modified version of the old diet," Dr. Sacks explains.

"The DASH diet was a real breakthrough for lowering blood pressure and we changed it. We reduced the carbohydrate content and replaced it with unsaturated fat or protein, and it lowered blood pressure more and improved lipids, and overall cardiovascular risk goes down." He calls the new regimens "an improvement over something that's already good."Two carbohydrate-reduced versions of the government's DASH diet have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and long-term cardiovascular risk, researchers report. The new diet shifts about 10 percent of calories from carbohydrates to either protein-rich foods or to monounsaturated fats such as olive or canola oil.

"This diet should be a frontrunner," says Dr. Frank Sacks, one of the authors of the study and a professor of medicine and nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard in Boston. "It improved the whole cardiovascular risk spectrum," notes Dr. Sacks. "A lot of patients are tough to control with the medications we have. Patients might not even need drugs if they go on the diet." "This is a modified version of the old diet," Dr. Sacks explains. "The DASH diet was a real breakthrough for lowering blood pressure and we changed it. We reduced the carbohydrate content and replaced it with unsaturated fat or protein, and it lowered blood pressure more and improved lipids, and overall cardiovascular risk goes down." He calls the new regimens "an improvement over something that's already good."

Another expert agreed that the two new versions of the DASH diet, as well as the original DASH, which was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), should work. "These are just alternative versions," says Dr. Jay Skyler, a professor of medicine and associate director of the diabetes research institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "To me, whether you get a little bit more lowering with one or another diet than the other matters less than the fact that you ought to stick to any one of these three," he comments. "They're all better than the conventional diet that these people were on."

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The DASH diet has been considered the gold standard of heart-healthy nutrition since it was pioneered in the mid-1990s. The original diet was carbohydrate-rich, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Unfortunately, in addition to lowering "bad" or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the regimen also reduced "good" or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and had no effect on blood fats called triglycerides.

To help make the regimen even healthier, the same researchers updated the diet and compared the two new versions with the old one. For this study, 164 adults aged 30 and older with elevated blood pressure were assigned to one of three diets: one in which carbohydrates represented 55 percent of calories (close to the original DASH diet); one that shifted 10 percent of carbohydrate calories to protein (about two-thirds from plant sources and the rest from chicken and egg whites); and one that shifted 10 percent of calories to unsaturated fat, mostly olive or canola oils. About half of the participants were African American, a group at especially high risk of developing hypertension.

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