Heart smart: Some simple dietary changes might improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels

Story by Jamie Lampros
(Jamie Lampros)
Mon, Oct 15, 2012
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Want to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol? Eat more yogurt and cook with a blend of sesame and rice bran oils.

According to research presented at American Heart Association science sessions in September, adding more yogurt to your diet without increasing the number of calories you eat may help lower your risk of high blood pressure.

Other research presented at the AHA sessions showed that people who cooked with a blend of sesame and rice bran oils saw a significant drop in blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels — especially when used in tandem with medication.

The oil study, conducted in New Delhi, India, divided 300 people with mild to moderately high blood pressure into three groups. The first group was treated with the blood-pressure-lowering medication nifedipine. The second group was given the oil blend and told to use about an ounce each day in meals. The third group was given both the medication and the oil blend.

All three groups saw drops in the top number, or systolic reading, of their blood pressure. Systolic measures the force of blood against your artery walls when your heart is beating. Those using only the oil blend saw a drop in systolic pressure by an average of 14 points. Those using the medication saw a drop of 16 points and those using both saw a 36-point drop.

The bottom number, or diastolic blood pressure, also dropped significantly. Diastolic pressure measures the force of blood against your artery walls when your heart is at rest between beats. Those who were in the oil-only group saw an 11-point drop. Those on the medication saw a 12-point drop and those on both saw a 24-point drop.

As far as the cholesterol, those using the oils saw a 26 percent drop in their bad, or LDL, cholesterol and a 9.5 percent increase in their good, or HDL, cholesterol. There were no changes in patients who used the medication alone. Those who took both the medication and used the oils saw a 27 percent drop in LDL levels and a 10.9 percent increase in HDL.

Healthier fatty acids and antioxidants found in the sesame and rice oil blends may be the reason for the results, researchers stated.

During the 15-year study on yogurt, researchers found long-term yogurt eaters were less likely to develop high blood pressure, and also had lower systolic blood pressure than those who didn’t consume yogurt.

According to information on the AHA website, the yogurt study was funded by the Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and by a research grant from the Dannon yogurt company.

No outside funding was received for the cooking oil research, according to an AHA press release. Adani Wilmar Limited of Gujarat, India, donated the oil blend for use in the study.

The healthy diet

Debbie Williams, who owns Timeless Medical Spa and Weight Loss Center with her husband, Dr. Brent Williams, said the studies are promising and worth keeping an eye on.

However, she said, eating a heart-healthy diet will always help your overall health, including your blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Yogurt is incredibly good for you and Greek yogurt seems to be the best because it has fewer calories, the protein content is good and there’s a good amount of probiotics,” she said. “You do have to be careful when choosing yogurt, though. Always read labels and steer clear of the yogurts with the fruit on the bottom because they have a lot of sugar. You’re better off adding your own berries to your yogurt. And an apple a day is always good.”

Williams also said everyone needs fat in their diet, but choosing the right kinds of fat is crucial.

“Sesame and rice oils burn hotter, so they don’t absorb into the food as much as the heavier oils,” she said. “They’re also good for you. Sesame seeds have some really good antioxidants in them, which may help lower blood pressure levels.”

Cautions

Joy Musselman, a registered dietitian at McKay-Dee Hospital, said the American Heart Association is an organization that consistently looks for and supports quality research.

However, she said, neither yogurt nor sesame/rice brain oils has formally been recommended as a treatment for high blood pressure and cholesterol, so people should not stop taking their medication for either condition.

“Adopting heart-healthy dietary practices, such as eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and heart healthy oils, has been shown to help decrease overall cholesterol and reduce blood pressure,” she said. “Oils low in saturated fats are considered to be the most heart-healthy. Examples of heart-healthy oils included olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil, to name a few.”

Musselman said even if everything looks positive in the full report once it’s released, one of the largest limitations will be that the oil blend used in the study is not commercially available right now.

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