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BETHESDA, Md. -- A new study published yesterday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that eating an increased amount of low-fat dairy foods could lower blood pressure more effectively than a conventional low-fat diet.
In the study, "Blood pressure change with weight loss is affected by diet type in men," Caryl Nowson, a nutritionist at Australia's Deakin University, and other researchers compared two diets -- one based on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan developed by the Bethesda-based National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the other a typical low-fat diet -- in combination with increased exercise. For comparable weight loss, the DASH-based diet led to a greater decrease in blood pressure than did the low-fat diet, the research showed.
The DASH eating plan consists of three daily servings of low-fat dairy foods and eight to 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables. The U.S. government recently recommended the DASH plan in the new dietary guidelines and MyPyramid, and NHLBI has named May National Blood Pressure Education Month.
The study participants, 54 middle-aged men with a body mass index of about 30, were assigned to one of the two diets for 12 weeks and took part in comparable levels of exercise. Both diets featured low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, fruits, and vegetables, but at the twelfth week the DASH dieters reported a higher intake of dairy foods (about four daily servings vs. two and a half among the low-fat dieters). The two diet groups reported the same amounts of fruit and vegetable intake.
The study's authors believe that a combination of factors, such as lower sodium and more potassium, calcium, and magnesium -- important nutrients found in dairy products -- could have resulted in the greater effect of the DASH diet on the obesity-related high blood pressure of the study's participants.
"DASH-recommended foods like fruits, vegetables, and low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt have been shown to be very effective in lowering blood pressure, as well as reducing the risk of other chronic diseases," said Melissa Joy Buoscio, MS, RD, CDE of the Rosemont, Ill.-based National Dairy Council in a statement. "It's good news for people who can still eat foods they enjoy -- like chocolate milk, yogurt parfaits, or even pizza with veggies and low-fat cheese -- and still get the health benefits."
According to the study and the NHLBI, it's estimated that one in three Americans suffer from high blood pressure.