Pressure goes down when fruits and veggies go up in diet

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Score one more for fruits and vegetables, with honorable mention for other low-fat foods. A study reported at a recent American Heart Association meeting found these foods can control high blood pressure as well as drugs can.

In the study, dubbed DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension), scientists at six centers across the U.S. studied 459 adults for eight weeks. Participants had high-normal or mildly elevated blood pressure--below 160 systolic (the top number in a blood pressure reading) over 80 to 95 diastolic (the bottom number).

A control group ate a typical American diet--high in total and saturated fat, low in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. A second group ate a similar high-fat diet, but rich in fruits and vegetables (9 to 10 servings a day). A third group ate an overall healthful diet--low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods (3 servings a day) and other low-fat protein sources.

Both the diet heavy on fruits and vegetables and the overall healthful diet decreased blood pressure within two weeks; the overall healthful diet showed the best results. For those with high blood pressure at the start (140 over 90 or higher), the overall healthful diet gave dramatic results, with blood pressure dropping an average of 11.4 points Systolic and 5.5 diastolic. Decreases of this magnitude are similar to those from treatment with drugs.

The researchers attribute the impressive findings to the abundance of potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber and other nutrients in the healthful diet, but scarce in the control diet.

The DASH study demonstrates what researchers have long suspected: Dietary changes that focus on whole foods rather than individual nutrients can lower blood pressure quickly and effectively without drugs' side effects.

The researchers suggest that if Americans adopt such an overall healthful diet and make other lifestyle changes--maintain a healthy weight, eat less salt, use alcohol moderately and stay physically active--they might avoid taking medication for high blood pressure. Even better, they might prevent the disease in the first place.

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