DASH Diet for Lowering Blood Pressure

18 Apr


 [Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension]

In addition to following the American Heart Association’s (AHA) heart healthy diet recommendations (low-fat, high fiber diet with fruits and vegetables and plant-based protein), the DASH diet emphasizes a low sodium diet with adequate amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium. This plan has been shown to lower blood pressure in as quickly as two weeks. Following this plan may also lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

The Guidelines:

    • 1500mg sodium [The AHA recommends this amount of sodium for ALL individuals]
    • 4700mg potassium
    • 1250mg calcium
    • 500mg magnesium

How to lower sodium intake:

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks
  • Cook from scratch and freeze leftovers
  • Don’t add salt to your food
  • Eat out less often; ask servers how the food is prepared and ask for sauce on the side and/or no salt added
  • Go easy on the condiments
  • Rinse canned beans well
  • Choose frozen/fresh over canned vegetables
  • Limit frozen dinners or if you do have one on occasion, look for ones with less than 600mg sodium
  • Read labels: aim for foods with no more than 300mg per serving (less than 150mg is even better)

Reducing your sodium intake is extremely important to lowering blood pressure, but the following nutrients have also been shown to play a role. Focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily (5 to 9 servings per day) as well as the other nutrient-dense foods below.

 Potassium rich foods: potatoes, banana, soybeans, apricots, sweet potato, lentils, spinach, zucchini, almonds, kidney beans, oranges, fat-free milk, low-fat yogurt, fish, wheat germ


Photo source


Magnesium rich foods: halibut, almonds, cashews, soybeans, spinach, whole wheat products, shredded wheat cereal, oatmeal, potatoes, peanuts, wheat bran, pumpkin seeds, low-fat yogurt, brown rice, lentils, avocado, kidney beans, wheat germ, banana, sunflower seeds, flaxseed

 Calcium rich foods: fat-free milk, low-fat yogurt, collard greens, black strap molasses, calcium-fortified orange juice, turnip greens, tofu, tempeh, kale, soybeans, okra, bok choy, broccoli, tahini, almonds, fortified soy milk, wheat germ

For more information visit the DASH Diet.

DASH Yogurt Parfait

Yield: 1 parfait

Time: 5 minutes


  • ½ cup wheat bran cereal
  • 1 6oz container of vanilla non-fat Greek yogurt [better yet, plain yogurt – lower in sugar]
  • ½ medium banana, sliced
  • 1/8 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 Tbsp chopped dried apricots

 Place ¼ cup cereal in a small bowl; layer 3oz yogurt, ¼ banana, 1/16 cup almonds, ½ Tbsp apricots. Repeat.

 Nutrition Stats: 300 calories, 5gm fat, 0.6gm saturated, 66mg sodium, 47gm carbohydrate, 9.5gm fiber, 27gm sugar, 22gm protein

 Other ways to lower your blood pressure:

  • Exercise at least 30-60 minutes 3-6 days per week
  • Weight loss, if needed
  • Caffeinated beverages can increase blood pressure, consume sparingly
  • Quit smoking
  • Practice stress management
  • Increase fiber intake [fruits, vegetables, whole grains]

Fantasic Fiber: Eat More Whole Grains

28 Mar

What is a whole grain?


When grains are processed to become refined carbohydrates, the bran and germ are removed, removing the nutritive portion of the grain, leaving only the energy providing portion.

 Whole grains provide essential nutrients that processed grains do not: fiber, vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate) and minerals (iron, selenium [an antioxidant], magnesium). The USDA recommends you eat half of your starch servings as whole grains. I say, why waste calories on foods that don’t provide any health benefits [energy dense] when you can be providing your body with essential nutrients with every bite [nutrient dense]. In other words, I recommend ALWAYS chosing brown rice or quinoa over white.


Identifying whole grains:

  • Read labels – look for “100% whole wheat” as the first ingredient
  • “Whole grain” stamp on packages

Not just wheat: quinoa*, oats, corn*, amaranth*, barley, buckwheat*, brown rice*, wild rice*, rye, sorghum*, teff*, triticale

*gluten free



  • Helps control blood sugar levels
  • Regulates bowel movements, maintains integrity of the gut
  • Aids with weight loss
  • Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol
  • May also reduce blood pressure and decrease inflammation in the body – factors in heart disease

 Soluble fiber: oats, barley, nuts, flaxseed, peas, beans, apple pulp, citrus fruits, strawberries, psyllium husk

  • Attracts water – turns to gel, slows digestion
  • Psyllium fiber supplement (Metamucil, Kyonsil) – take 1 teaspoon 3 times daily for cholesterol lowering benefits
  • Eating 15 grams of soluble fiber per day has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol by 10-15%
  • Slows the time that the contents move through the digestive tract – can help with diarrhea

Insoluble fiber: whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, vegetables, fruits, rice, apple skin

  • Has been associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and slower progression of cardiovascular disease
  • Prevents constipation by increasing time food moves through the intestine

When increasing your fiber intake, remember to increase gradually to avoid GI distress and drink plenty of fluids to keep your bowels regular!



v  Goal: 30-35 grams soluble + insoluble fiber per day

Chocolate Cinnamon Date Balls

16 Mar

My mom asked for a healthy dessert for her birthday this year, and being short on time and looking for something she could also take home for snacks, this is what ended up happening. These no-bake cookie balls are delicious and totally customizable to your own taste!

Makes: 12 balls


  • 1/2 cup raw unsalted almonds
  • 16 dates
  • 1 Tbsp flaxseed meal
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (at least 60% cocoa), chopped

Grind almonds in food processor until it is a coarse flour-like texture, not too fine. Place in a bowl and set aside. Place the dates in the food processor and blend until chopped well. Add cinnamon, flaxseed, cinnamon and ground almonds and blend until well combined. Mix in chopped chocolate chips by hand. Using a tablespoon measuring spoon, scoop the “dough” and form into a firm ball in your hand. Store in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Stats (per ball): 75 calories, 3.5gm fat, 0gm cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 10gm carbs, 2gm fiber, 2gm protein

Nutrition bonus: Almonds contain heart healthy monounsaturated fat and vitamin E, an antioxidant (also look here for more information about how to get more antioxidants in your diet). Dates contain fiber, antioxidants, potassium [helpful for lowering blood pressure] and iron for energy boosting. Dark chocolate and cinnamon also contain antioxidants and cinnamon helps to stablize blood sugars as well [important for everyone, not only diabetics]. Flaxseed is a source of ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid, and also adds fiber to your diet and contains lignans – more antioxidants!

National Nutrition Month :: Make a Rainbow on Your Plate

8 Mar

March is National Nutrition Month, a campaign sponsored by the American Dietetic Association to promote nutrition education; this year’s theme is Eat Right with Color.



As a dietitian, I am often asked about multivitamins. My personal recommendation, however, is to obtain nutrients from eating a variety of whole foods as research is yet to conclude if supplementation has the same benefits as obtaining these nutrients through the diet. Each day and week, think about including fruits and vegetables from all color families to provide your body with a rainbow of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, substances that protect the cells in your body. Aim for at least three different colors at each meal to obtain maximal health benefits.

Blue/purple: Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, black rice, red cabbage and cherries, are antioxidants which are touted to decrease inflammation associated with arthritis and heart disease. These foods also contain resveratrol, an antioxidant specifically linked to protecting against heart disease and maintaining eye health. Anthocyanins also contain anti-aging properties, may help with memory and promote urinary tract health. Blueberries, likely because of the anthocyanins, have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure.

Red: Red foods such as tomatoes, beets, watermelon and pomegranates contain lycopene, an antioxidant that in men with high intakes was linked with decreased risk of prostate cancer. These antioxidants also protect us from heart disease and may benefit those with exercise-induced asthma.

Green: Kale, spinach, broccoli, avocados and asparagus are nutritional powerhouses that are rich in lutein for eye health and vitamin K for bone health. Green fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamin C, folate, and magnesium.

Orange/Yellow: Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and apricots contain a variety of carotenoids, which enhance immune function. Carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables (not supplements) have been shown to possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Orange and yellow foods are also high in vitamin A to help protect the eyes and are thought to fend off colds by boosting immunity.

White: The lack of color in these foods is not for lack of nutrition! Potatoes are high in potassium, an electrolyte that helps lower blood pressure, and vitamin C for immunity. Cauliflower, potatoes and mushrooms contain allicin and quercetin, substances that may defend against cancer and inflammation leading to heart disease. Red onions contain several types of antioxidants including quercetin. Onions and garlic are beneficial to the cardiovascular and immune systems and may also have anti-cancer effects as well.  

Brown: The brown group not only contain produce such as dates, but also whole grains including wheat, brown rice and wild rice are good sources of fiber to aid with weight management, maintain gut integrity and control blood sugars. They are also packed with B vitamins and iron to keep you energized. Almonds contain heart healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, an antioxidant.

A few ideas to add color to your diet:

  • Add spinach to your fruit smoothies – you won’t even be able to taste it!
  • Add a spring mix salad topped with colorful bell peppers and red onion as an appetizer to any meal.
  • Mix fresh berries into your morning oatmeal.
  • Pack cut-up carrots to eat with lunch or a snack.
  • Make a homemade soup with pureed or chopped vegetables including celery, carrots, potatoes and peas. Or add extra vegetables to low-sodium, canned soups.
  • Each week or month, find a recipe for a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t tried before.

For more information about National Nutrition Month visit: http://www.eatright.org/nnm/

How do you add color to your diet?

Progress Report [or lack there of]

6 Mar

I haven’t given an update about my progress for my wedding shape-up goals…Well, it’s because there honestly hasn’t been much progress. I actually considered deleting this part of the blog, but I feel like it’s helpful for folks to see that even registered dietitians and certified personal trainers struggle to reach their goals as well! My weight has actually gone up since my last post, and I definitely feel like I’ve been eating a lot more (I attribute that to stress!). I really do have a lot going on in my life – working at two hospitals, planning a wedding, a few different writing opportunities, keeping up with my new blog and keeping in touch with friends and family! So it’s time to re-visit my goals and adjust my plan.

  • First, I finally gave in and got a membership at 24 Hour Fitness. We have the gym at our apartment, but if there are 3 people in there, there’s not much room left so it was easy to become unmotivated. I actually used to work at 24, and there are a few near-by with good group classes. I’ve discovered that actually paying for a gym membership is great motivation on its own!  At the beginning of the week, I plan the group classes that I’m going to go to for the week (2-3 + a yoga class). I also have my gym bag packed to stop on my way home from work. The only hard part is that the fiance gets off work after me, and I like to wait for him…but I NEVER know when he’ll be off work so it sometimes messes up our fitness schedule –> something for HIM to work on, I’d say! Some days, I’ll just have to get my workout in without him. I always have a snack packed in my gym bag as well – one of my biggest excuses for skipping the gym after work is because I’m hungry!
  • Weigh myself every Monday and Friday. Good way to see if you’re on track but keep in mind that your weight will fluctuate daily based on hydration, contents in your bowels and menstrual cycle. I will also take my circumference measurements monthly.
  • I feel like a lot of my time on my days off is spent catching up with friends and family. I’m lucky to have such active friends, so if I need to get a workout in I’m sure they’d be happy to join me! Otherwise, get the workout done first thing in the morning before starting errands (which I’m actually pretty good about).
  • FOOD JOURNAL!! This is one of the biggest keys to success with weight loss and weight maintenance, and apparently, one of the most difficult for me to do. It’s just something I need to do. Some days, I do my food journal the night before and plan my meals out – which is a GREAT plan. I always seem to fall off the bandwagon when I get home from work. So my plan is to JUST DO IT. My goal is still to journal 3 days per week. I believe that this will be my biggest key to success – I tend to snack a bit more than I think I realize.
  • Another thing I’m working on in my life (which is not really related to this, but it really is), is getting more organized and simplifying my life. Instead of writing my workouts down in three or four places (yep, sure do) I plan to get them all to one – just have to decide which method works best. I also currently have three day planners (one online, old-fashioned day timer and work Outlook planner). This month, I will downsize to one method for tracking each (except a day timer for both work and “life”).


Some things I am doing well with:

  • I have been working out 4-5 days per week. I’ve been doing more cardio lately – thinking of training for another half marathon. Gotta make sure to stay on track with the weights too.
  • Planning dinners. I plan dinner and grocery shop on my day off for all the days until my next day off. This really helps keep us accountable because we’ve already bought the groceries and don’t want them to go to waste.
  • Buying a gym membership will be a great step for us also!

So this is where I’m picking up with the plan. Only 7 months to go!!

Question :: Anyone have any other tips for success? What keeps you on track?

The HCG Diet :: Worst I’ve Ever Seen

3 Mar

I was recently listening to a local Denver radio station where one of the talk show hosts was talking about the success she’s had on her most recent fad diet – the HCG diet. I instantaneously felt my skin burning, my blood pressure rising and acted before I could even think. I was so enraged that my community was hearing this ridiculous diet being promoted. As a registered dietitian, I fight these idiotic fad diets all day long and could help myself but to speak up. I found her on twitter and commented that I was upset that she was promoting this diet, and that it was the worst diet I’ve ever heard of. She replied, letting me know that the chiropractor that put her on the diet was going to be on the air and wanted me on as well. I declined, but offered an opinion via email. The chiropractor came on the air and honestly didn’t provide any evidence to convince me any differently, so I continued with my response. Well, here it is:

“I continue to stand by my initial statement that the HCG diet is one of the worst diets I’ve ever seen. Part of my role as a registered dietitian is to evaluate available research and the authenticity of data on various topics, including fad diets such as this.  

The original HCG diet restricts total calories to 500 per day, equally divided into 2 meals. Each meal can contain roughly 3.5 ounces (100 gm) of lean meat, one serving each of a specified fruit and vegetable and one breadstick or Melba toast. It’s relatively easy to see that this diet is deficient not only in calories, but vital nutrients including protein and fat, entire food groups, vitamins, and minerals!  The minimum diet of around 20 days is more than enough time to develop nutrient deficiencies. Even taking a multivitamin doesn’t guarantee health assurance; studies have shown that the whole food is more important than the sum of its parts.

This is a semi-starvation diet and doesn’t provide adequate calories to support normal brain function or muscle store of glucose. Such calorie restrictions can trigger the body to significantly slow the metabolism in an effort to conserve calories to survive. The body will very quickly begin breaking down muscle as a source of energy. Keep in mind that your heart is a muscle. Semi-starvation also affects hormone and electrolytes in the body. An Imbalance  of electrolytes can have serious side effects including heart arrhythmias, come and sudden death.

  A number of randomized controlled trials have been conducted on HCG and weight loss. The double-blinded, placebo controlled trials are strong designs because neither the researcher nor the participant knows which drug is given. Randomization mimics “chance”. Both of these factors limit bias. These studies demonstrate no significant difference in weight loss between the participants who received the 500 calorie diet and the HCG injections or the 500 calorie diet and the placebo injection. Placebos are look-alikes used to protect studies against bias.  Researchers concluded that the significant weight loss seen in BOTH the participants who received the HCG AND the placebo injection was attributed to the drastically low calorie diet.  Essentially, this has been shown to be a very expensive placebo.

HCG has been approved by the FDA for use as a fertility drug; it has NOT been approved as a weight loss agent.  In fact the Federal Trade Commission, an independent government agency that investigates and protects against deceptive and fraudulent claims, ordered the clinics that offer this program to post the following statement: HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or “normal” distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restricted diets.

In summary, even medically managed, inpatient weight loss programs do not restrict calories to this extent nor do they use hormones whose long term effects are unknown. They do, however, have an MD or DO monitoring vital signs and blood values daily and a dietitian ensuring a balanced diet.

I feel very strongly that our community should be informed with educated opinions to enable them to make decisions. I realize that this is a short-term diet, although the above risks may easily occur even within the 20 to 40 day timeframe. This diet is appalling and, in my professional opinion, the potential risks greatly outweigh any temporary benefit.”

I hope that I can at least enlighten the public to consider the obvious way to a healthy weight – small lifestyle changes that make a big difference – and to quit looking for quick fixes to “get skinny.” There is NO quick fix diet or pill that will result in lasting health. So why on Earth would you waste your time with these fad diets? In half the amount of time you could have changed your life and gotten on the road to being healthy at a normal weight for the rest of your life.

Meatless Monday:: Polenta Lasagna

28 Feb

In honor of Meatless Monday, I’m sharing a DE-LISH vegetarian recipe I’ve tried from Oxygen magazine – Polenta Lasagna. I love Oxygen! It always has great “clean” recipes, and good workout tips and motivational articles also. Even better, they have registered dietitians on staff!

 This was actually my first time using polenta, which is cornmeal simmered in water. Polenta is a (gluten-free) whole grain and is a good source of  protein and many vitamins and minerals including vitamin A [good for your eyes and cells], potassium [helps to lower blood pressure] and calcium [necessary for bone health and used in muscle contractions]. It was traditionally eaten at breakfast, but is very versatile and often used instead of pasta!

My own photos didn’t turn out too well – we were starving and dug in before it had much time to sit and cool so it pretty much just fell apart on the plate! As messy as it  looked, it tasted wonderful – enjoy.

[Click on to enlarge if you can’t read the directions]