DASH Diet Helps to Reduce High Blood Pressure

Medications and exercise are strategies that can be used to help reduce high blood pressure. Diet also has a role to play in treating hypertension and prehypertension, and the DASH diet is an effective way to help lower blood pressure.

Hypertension or high blood pressure is defined as systolic pressure of 140 or higher and  diastolic pressure of 90 or more. Prehypertension is diagnosed when the patient’s systolic pressure is 120 or higher and the diastolic pressure reading is 90 or higher.

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and this eating program can provide results, including increased brain function, very quickly. Some people who have adopted the DASH diet report seeing lower blood pressure in about two weeks.

How the DASH Diet Works

A person who is eating 2,000 calories per day on the DASH diet would eat the following types of foods:

Grain Products
Seven or eighth servings per day is recommended. A serving is equal to a slice of bread or a cup of ready-to-eat cereal. For cooked rice, pasta or cereal, 1/2 cup is equal to a serving.

Meat, Poultry and Fish

No more than two servings of this type of food per day. A serving is approximately three ounces or lean meat, skinless chicken or fish.

Fruits and Vegetables

Four or five servings of fruits and the same amount of vegetables should be consumed daily, according to the DASH diet guidelines. A serving of fruit is equal to a medium piece of fruit, 1/4 cup of dried fruit or 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit. Six ounces of fruit juice is also considered a serving.

A serving of vegetables is six ounces of vegetable juice or 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables. A one-cup serving of raw leafy vegetables also counts as a serving.

Dairy Products

This eating plan includes low-fat milk and dairy products. Two or three servings per day are included on the list. A cup of yogurt, eight ounces of milk or 1 1/2 oz. of cheese are considered to be a serving.

Beans, Nuts and Seeds

These foods have a place in the DASH diet. Four or five servings per week should be consumed. A serving of one of these foods is made up of 1/2 cup of cooked beans, 1/3 cup of nuts or 1 Tablespoon of seeds.

Fats and Oils

A certain amount of fat is required to stay healthy, and this eating plan allows for two or three servings each day. A serving of fat or oil is a teaspoon of soft margarine or vegetable oil. A tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise or light salad dressing is also considered to be a serving.


People following the DASH plan can have five servings of sweets each week. A serving is an eight-ounce serving of lemonade, a tablespoon of sugar, jelly or jam, or 1/2 oz. of jelly beans.

Your BMI and Heart Health

BMI, or Body Mass Indicator, is a tool used to evaluate the amount of body fat that a particular individual is carrying. The number is based on a person’s weight for his or her height.

A formula is used to make a calculation to come up with the BMI number.

The first step is to take the individual’s weight in kilograms and divide it by his or her height in meters squared.

BMI and heart health are connected. The numbers are used as a way to calculate an individual’s risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

BMI Numbers and What they Mean

  • A BMI of 18.5 or less is an indication the individual is underweight.
  • A “normal” BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.
  • A BMI of between 25-30 is in the overweight range.
  • An individual with a BMI of 31-39 is obese, and when this number reaches 40 or higher, it’s an indication of extreme obesity.

These numbers are not written in stone, however. It’s possible for a person who is very well muscled to have a BMI that doesn’t reflect his or her true level of fitness. The calculation is based on weight for height, and doesn’t take the fact that muscle weighs more than fat into the equation.

You will find a BMI calculator and a chart on the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute web site.

Waist to Hip Ratio for Calculating Body Fat

Along with BMI, another way to help calculate the risk of heart disease is to look at the person’s waist measurement. Belly fat and heart disease are linked, since carrying excess weight in the abdominal region can lead to hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is a medical condition where plaque builds up in the arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol and fat, as well as other substances. It attaches to the interior walls of the arteries supplying the heart. Over time, the arteries become less flexible and the buildup of plaque means the arteries become narrow. The artery may become fully blocked or a piece of plaque can break off and become lodged in a more narrow blood vessel, triggering a heart attack.

To calculate the level of risk for heart disease from belly fat, simply take a tape measure and measure the hips at their widest part. The measure the waist at its smallest part. This is usually directly above the belly button.

Divide the waist measurement by the number of the hip measurement. For women, this number should be 0.85 or less. A healthy number for men is a bit higher; 0.9 or less is an indication of a healthy waist to hip ratio for heart health.

Flaxseed Offers Numerous Health Benefits

Eating a  high-fiber diet for health is important, but don’t forget to include flax seed in your eating plan. This small, brown seed has been around for centuries, and packs quite a punch when it comes to health benefits.

Flaxseed has been grown by humans since 3000 BC. Its health benefits were well known to ancient people. Charlemagne, king of the Franks and the first Holy Roman Emperor, even passed laws requiring those under his rule to eat flaxseed.

Modern consumers are echoing what Charlemagne knew centuries ago: flax seed is good for your health and should be consumed regularly. It can be bought in its original state and used in cooking, and many products, including oatmeal, crackers and frozen waffles, contain this ingredient. Flaxseed is also being used for agricultural purposes; chickens are being fed this product as part of their diet. As a result, they are laying eggs containing a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids.

Why is flaxseed so good for your health? It contains the following:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which are “good” fats that help to lower triglyceride levels and increase the “good” cholesterol in the body. Consuming a tablespoon of ground flaxseed provides 1.8 grams of Omega-3s.
  • Lignans, an antioxidant and plant estrogen. It can help to lower the risk of breast cancer. Flaxseed contains a higher level of this substance than other sources, such as green tea, kale and broccoli.
  • Fiber, which helps to maintain regularity and lowers the risk of heart disease. Flaxseed is a source of soluble and insoluble fiber.

Flaxseed and Heart Disease

Making a point of eating flaxseed as part of a healthy diet that can lower the risk of heart disease. It helps by preventing hardening of the arteries and reduces the likelihood of harmful plaque attaching itself to their interior by making white blood cells less sticky. Consuming flaxseed regularly can help to lower the amount of plaque buildup by up to 75 percent.

Flaxseed Reduces Inflammation

The lignans found in flaxseed can help to reduce inflammation in the body. People living with asthma or Parkinson’s Disease may find relief from their symptoms, since eating flaxseeds can help to block pro-inflammatory agents in the body.

Flaxseed for Menopausal Women

Hot flashes are a common symptom associated with menopause. While they are not harmful, they are uncomfortable. Eating two tablespoons of ground flaxseed twice a day can reduce the number of hot flashes by half and reduce the intensity of the ones they do experience as well.

How to Include Flaxseed in Your Diet

Check labels on grain products to check for flaxseed in the ingredients. You can also buy whole or ground flaxseed from bulk food retailers or online. Flaxseed can easily be added to foods like pasta sauce, chili, stews or meatballs and you can reap the health benefits from this food very easily.

All About Electrocardiograms

An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a medical test that records the electrical activity of an individual’s heart. The test takes about 10 minutes to complete and is not painful. While the reading is being taken, the patient is asked to lie still to ensure an accurate reading.

An EKG is performed by a technologist. These people have undergone specialized training to learn how to administer EKG tests properly.

What an EKG Measures

The results of the EKG provide doctors with valuable information, including:

  • patient’s heart rate
  • whether there are any irregularities in the heart rhythm
  • size of the heart

When an EKG May Be Ordered

A doctor may ask that a patient undergo an EKG for a number of reasons. If a patient has or is experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing or complains of that his or her heart is pounding, an EKG will be ordered to investigate the cause of those symptoms.

A person who complains of feeling weak or tired may also need to have this test performed. If a doctor detects an unusual sound when listening to a patient’s heartbeat, the test can help to determine the cause. In some cases, the EKG will need to be repeated to diagnose the underlying heart condition.

Some patients undergo an EKG as part of their regular checkup, especially if the individual is at risk for heart disease. Patients who have been outfitted with a pacemaker will also need to have this test performed. It may also be used as part of a pre-surgery screening.

How the EKG is Conducted

The first part of the procedure is for the technologist administering the EKG to put 13 stickers on the patient’s body. They are attached to his or her arms, legs and chest in specific locations. Each one of the stickers is attached to a wire that is used to measure the heart beat and other information the doctor needs.

Once the testing procedure has been completed, the technologist will remove the stickers. A doctor will review the test strip to determine the results of the test.

High Fiber Diets Lower Heart Disease Risk

Consuming a high fiber diet is something that everyone can do to help reduce their risk of developing heart disease. Other risk factors, such as family history of heart problems, are out of our control, but we all have a say in what kinds of foods we choose to eat.

Adding more fiber to your diet helps to control cholesterol and triglyceride levels within the body. It also helps overall health by giving the immune system a boost. Another important benefit to consuming enough fiber is that these foods help you to feel full longer and may make it easier to avoid snacking on high calorie, high fat foods between meals.

If you decide to add more fiber to your diet, do start slowly. Allow yourself a couple of weeks to bring your daily intake of fiber up to the recommended levels of between 21-25 grams per day for women and 30-38 grams per day for men. You will also want to make sure that you are consuming more fluids throughout the day.

High Fiber Foods

When you want to add high fiber foods, the good news is that you have a variety of great-tasting choices available. Here are some examples:

  • Apples (skin on)
  • Baked beans
  • Bananas
  • Bran flakes
  • Bread (whole wheat)
  • Brown rice
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Oatmeal
  • Oranges
  • Popcorn (air popped)
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Adding more fiber to your diet is a simple matter of switching to whole wheat bread and brown rice instead of the white variety for these foods. Pack an apple or orange with your lunch every day – and be sure to eat it. Snack on carrot sticks and air-popped popcorn more often.

Before you know it, you will have achieved your goal of adding more fiber to your diet and you will be well on your way to healthier eating and better overall health.

Want to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease? Get a Pet

Having a pet has definite advantages when it comes to your health. They provide companionship and give their owners a reason to smile. The unconditional love and acceptance that animals provide is something that can’t be duplicated.

The results of a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) point to pet ownership as being good for the owner’s heart. The Institute looked at 400 people who had experienced a heart attack. The people who owned dogs were less likely to die as a result of the event than those who didn’t own one.

A second study looked at whether people who own dogs exercise more than than people who don’t own pets. The results indicated that dog owners got more exercise and were less likely to be obese.go for a walk

The third study that the NIH surveyed 200 married couples. It found that pet owners generally had lower blood pressure and heart rates. They also found it easier to deal with stressful situations that came up in their lives.

Not only does pet ownership lower the risk of heart disease, but it helps to beat stress and reduces the likelihood of getting headaches. Pet owners are also less likely to become depressed.

Before You Adopt a Pet

Owning a pet brings with it a big responsibility. Although there are definite benefits to owning an animal, the decision to bring an animal into your home should be made for the right reasons. They require regular care for life, including feeding/watering, grooming and exercise.

Pets also need the company of their humans and if your lifestyle is not conducive to spending time with the pet regularly, it may not be the right choice for you. You can still interact with animals and do some good by volunteering at the local animal shelter. That way, you are getting the benefits that come with interacting with an animal without having to commit to full-time ownership.

Not All Obese People are at Risk for Heart Disease

Carrying extra pounds is one of the risk factors for heart disease. People who are overweight or obese are encouraged by their loved ones and their doctor to get and maintain a healthy weight to improve heart health, but does everyone who is carrying excess pounds need to do so?

Not necessarily, according to the results of a study conducted by Dutch researchers. The University Medical Center in Groningen’s Dr. Andre van Beek stated that overweight people who are “metabolically healthy” are not at a higher risk for heart disease.

Metabolically Healthy

A metabolically healthy obese person is an individual whose medical history doesn’t include any of the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Stroke

They are in the minority, though, making up less than seven percent of the 1,325 obese people whose medical records were examined as part of the study.
Lowering Risk for Heart Disease

Since the majority of people who are overweight are at a higher risk of heart disease, losing weight can be part of a plan to reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular issues. Rather than trying to do so by going on a crash diet, a much better (and healthier) approach is to make a plan for slow, steady weight loss.

The weight didn’t go on overnight, and it’s not realistic to expect that it will come off that quickly. Following a balanced diet that is high in fiber and low in fat can help to get to and maintain a healthy weight. Along with a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise should be part of the plan, too.

Before starting an exercise program, a person should see a doctor. Starting off slowly will help to make being more physically active part of a lifestyle change, as opposed to a temporary measure designed to get the weight off only. If an individual goes back to his or her original eating habits after losing weight, the weight is likely to creep back up again.

Heart Healthy Diets for Men

Men who want to eat a heart healthy diet should focus their attention on the overall patterns of the food choices they make.

When it comes to eating well, it’s too easy to get bogged down in the details of meal planning.

Foods to Avoid

If your goal is to lower your risk of heart disease, you will want to eat the following types of food less often:

  • Processed meat
  • Red meat
  • Refined gains
  • Sweets

Foods to Include in Your Diet

Instead of eating the foods on the list above, make sure that you are eating these foods instead:

  • Fish
  • Fruits
  • Legumes
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains

Since the goal of creating a heart-health diet for men is to consider overall eating patterns, you don’t need to decide that you can’t ever enjoy a thick steak or a hamburger. As long as you are making good choices about what you are eating most of the time, go ahead and eat something that may be a less healthy one occasionally.

Make Small Changes

vegetables for heart healthRather than give your diet a complete overhaul and trying to make too many changes at once, start off by making some small changes. If you start your plan for heart healthy eating by thinking about all the foods you can no longer eat, you are effectively sabotaging your plan before you can get it started. Eating well is a habit, and it takes time to establish a positive one.

There are no “bad” foods. Some food choices are definitely healthier than others, though. If you keep your focus on the bigger picture and you try to avoid processed and high-fat foods most of the time, you will be able to lower your risk of developing heart disease, while not feeling deprived of the foods you enjoy.

Processed Meat Linked to Heart Disease

Do you enjoy eating cold cuts and other types of processed meats? The results of a study conducted by researchers in the United States may make you want to rethink this part of your diet. Eating foods like bacon, sausage and hot dogs regularly can increase your risk of heart disease by 42 percent.

The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) compiled information taken from 1,600 studies conducted around the world that included approximately 1.2 million people. The results indicated that eating a single hot dog or one or two slices of deli meats daily was enough to make the risk of heart disease jump.

The salt and preservatives used in preparing these foods may be the real reason why these foods aren’t the healthiest choices. High levels of sodium have already been linked to heart disease.

Eating non-processed meats doesn’t appear to carry the same level of risk for heart health. If you enjoy red meat, you can include lean cuts in your diet. Choose healthier cooking methods, like baking, broiling or grilling, more often. You can also make a point of trimming excess fat off before cooking.

Chicken or turkey can also be part of a heart-healthy diet. If you like hamburgers, try adding some variety to your table by picking up some ground turkey and making turkey burgers instead? You may want to add some spices to the meat before cooking to jazz up the patties, since the turkey can be a little bland on its own.

Once the turkey burgers are cooked, serve them on whole wheat buns. Feel free to garnish with some relish, onion, lettuce and tomato for a tasty sandwich that the whole family can enjoy.

You can still eat processed meats occasionally without increasing your risk of developing heart disease. According to the results of the study, eating these types of foods once a week or so won’t lead to heart problems. Keep them in mind for an occasional treat instead of including them in your daily diet if you want to be good to your heart.

Working Overtime? You Could be Damaging Your Heart

If you have been thinking that spending too much time at work could be bad for your heart health, you may be right. The results of a study conducted on British civil servants indicate that working overtime can increase the risk of cardiac issues.

The results, which were published in the European Heart Journal, followed 10,000 people, found that the government workers who worked more than three hours longer than the standard seven-hour workday had a 60 percent higher risk of having a non-fatal heart attack or angina, or developing heart disease.

The reason working long hours and increased risk of heart disease are related may be due to increased stress involved in spending more time on the job. A person who puts in long hours at work may be a Type A personality. This type of person is already aggressive, highly competitive and impatient, and is probably a good candidate for heart problems. It makes sense that the risk of heart disease, heart attack and angina are linked to someone who puts in a lot of time on the job.

Chronic stress is not healthy for anyone, and working long hours, either to complete special projects or because workers have a higher workload due to cutbacks, leads to other habits that don’t promote good health.

Eating on the run may mean going for fast food over a healthier choice, and working long hours may mean that the employee is not getting enough sleep. Neither of these scenarios contribute to good heart health.

While some overtime may be required for certain positions, if a person finds they are expected to burn the midnight oil regularly, it may be a good idea to update the resume and start putting out feelers for another job. The idea of work/life balance is an important one, and it appears that it is essential for good health.