Try the DASH Diet to Lower Your Blood Pressure & Promote Heart Health

by Shayna Bryan, Intern & UAB Community Health & Human Services Student

DASH Diet, Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America. In addressing this national challenge, researchers created the DASH diet after following participants in a rigorous 5-year intervention called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Study. Hypertension, also known as high-blood pressure, is a major risk factor for heart disease, but can be managed with a healthy diet. The DASH diet was designed to be a nutrition-based approach to address the high rates of hypertension and heart disease associated with the typical high-sodium American diet. Most studies on nutrition use dietary recalls, looking at past diet history. In contrast, the DASH study participants were provided with food and their sodium intake was carefully controlled and monitored. The results of the DASH Diet Study demonstrated that diet alone is effective at reducing blood pressure!

The CDC recommends the average adult consumes less than 2,300 mg sodium per day. The DASH diet sets this as the beginning maximum, but about 90% of Americans are consuming far more than this. The average sodium consumption per day is an astounding 3,400 mg for U.S. adults! Just lowering one’s daily salt intake down to the CDC recommendation will be a major improvement for most people and will result in blood pressure reduction in a matter of weeks. The even more ambitious low-sodium DASH diet aims to gradually reduce your intake to 1,500 mg per day.

Most of the sodium we consume comes in the form of salt, which is added to processed foods for preservation and flavor. We can drastically lower our salt intake by focusing on whole foods which are naturally low in sodium.

The DASH diet emphasis the consumption of:

  • Fruits
  • Veggies
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Low-Fat dairy

This combination is high in potassium, magnesium and calcium, and fiber, while low in saturated fats. All of these nutrients, particularly the potassium (which is abundant in vegetables) help naturally lower blood pressure and counteract the effects of excessive sodium. The DASH Diet also discourages foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat, as well as sugary beverages.

The DASH Diet is recommended by the American Heart Association and is ranked the best heart-healthy diet and second-best diet overall (it has often traded places with the very similar current #1 spot, the Mediterranean Diet, which you can read about here) by the U.S. News and World Report.


Gradual change is the key to success whenever making a positive change in life.

Here are some small changes you can make to ease yourself into DASH-style diet:

  • Add one serving of vegetables to your existing meals
  • Go meatless for 2+ days a week
  • Switch out some of your grains to whole, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta
  • Add more herbs and spices to your meals, instead of salt
  • Snack on more whole foods, such as nuts or fruit

Below are some full meal plans designed by experts and more detailed resources.

Week on DASH

DASH Meal Planning Chart

Detailed DASH Eating Plan


Sources:

DASH Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved June 03, 2021, from https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/dash-diet

Dash eating plan. (n.d.). Retrieved June 03, 2021, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan

How to make the dash diet work for you. (2019, May 08). Retrieved June 03, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456

Sodium. (2020, September 08). Retrieved June 03, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/sodium.htm


ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP? TEST YOURSELF AND TRY THESE TIPS

by Adrienne Stokes, M. Ed. | UAB Community Health & Human Services Alumni

Photo by William Fortunato on Pexels.com

A good night’s sleep should not be taken for granted. Not getting enough sleep is linked to increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and depression. Exhaustion can also lead to vehicular accidents and mistakes at work.

Sufficient sleep is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. It is recommended that most adults sleep 7-9 hours each night for optimal health. It is also important that your regular sleep is of good quality, so you feel rested when you wake.

Getting enough sleeps means less sickness, a healthy weight, lower health risks for serious health conditions, reduced stress, improved mood, clearer thinking, and better decision making.

Talk to your doctor if you often have trouble sleeping or still feel tired after sleeping as these are symptoms of a possible sleep disorder.


Good Sleep Habits

  • Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, even on the weekends
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Remove electronic devices from the bedroom (i.e. TVs, computers, cell-phones)
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
  • Enjoy some physical activity before bedtime

Are you getting enough sleep?

Take the Sleep Hygiene Index below to see if you are getting enough sleep. Answer the following thirteen (13) questions. If after adding your total below, your score is 7 and above, consider trying the good sleep habits above.

  1. I take daytime naps lasting 2 or more hours (Yes or No)
  2. I go to bed at different times from day to day (Yes or No)
  3. I get out of be at different times from day to day (Yes or No)
  4. I exercise to the point of sweating within 1 hour of going to bed (Yes or No)
  5. I stay in bed longer than I should 2 or 3 times a week (Yes or No)
  6. I use alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine within 4 hours of going to bed (Yes or No)
  7. I do something that may wake me up before bedtime (play video games, browse internet, clean) (Yes or No)
  8. I go to bed feeling stressed, angry, upset, or nervous (Yes or No)
  9. I use my bed for things other than sleep or sex (watching TV, reading, eating, studying) (Yes or No)
  10. I sleep on an uncomfortable bed (poor mattress or pillow, too much or not enough blankets) (Yes or No)
  11. I sleep in an uncomfortable bedroom (too bright, too stuffy, too hot, too cold, too noisy) (Yes or No)
  12. I do important work before bedtime (pay bills, study) (Yes or No)
  13. I think, plan, or worry when I am in bed (Yes or No)

Score

For every Yes add 1 point, for every No add 0 points. Add up your totals.

0-3 Very Good

4-6 Good

7-9 Poor

10-13 Very Poor

(Sleep Hygiene Index Adapted from Mastin, Bryson & Corwyn, 2006)


Please check out the sources below to learn more about the practicing good sleep habits. Please also share your thoughts about sleep and sleep hygiene in the comments section of this post or via our page on Facebook @WilkinsonWellnessLab.

Resources and Further Reading

https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep#panel-4

https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html


LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET AND ITS BENEFITS

By Shayna Bryan, Intern & UAB Community Health & Human Services Student

If you’ve ever spent time looking for healthy diets to follow, but wanted to avoid a highly restrictive diet (like vegan) or a commercial diet plan (like Weight Watchers), you probably have come across the Mediterranean Diet. It has been the subject of research for over 50 years and has been ranked the best overall diet by the U.S. News and World Report for four years running. The American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the World Health Organization have all endorsed the Mediterranean diet as a healthy and sustainable eating style that reduces risk for heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. The Mediterranean Diet also may assist with weight loss in obese people and is associated with lower rates of depression, cognitive decline, cancer, and all-cause mortality.

This diet has a lot of major endorsements! So then, what’s up with this diet and why is it so special?

The Mediterranean Sea is a meeting point of three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. When health experts and researchers recommend the “Mediterranean Diet” they’re not talking about the food of just one people or one culture, but the common shared characteristics of the simple everyday meals made for centuries in this region of the world. Meals are built around plant-based foods, heavily seasoned with herbs and spice (though not tons of salt). These meals are made, shared, and enjoyed amongst a community of families and friends.

Here’s are the common characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet:

  • High consumption of vegetables, often raw or slightly cooked
  • Beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, potatoes, and unprocessed or whole grains
  • Olive oil as the principal source of fat
  • Fruit treated as a dessert
  • Moderate consumptions of fish, poultry, and dairy (mostly in the form of yogurt and cheese)
  • Low consumption of red meat
  • Moderate alcohol consumption, often in the form of red wine

Please check out the source below to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet. Please also share your thoughts about the Mediterranean Diet in the comments section of this post or via our page on Facebook @WilkinsonWellnessLab.

Sources:

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, June 21). Mediterranean diet for heart health. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015.

U.S. News & World Report. (n.d.). Mediterranean Diet. U.S. News & World Report. https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/mediterranean-diet.

What is the Mediterranean Diet? http://www.heart.org. (n.d.). https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet.


WOMEN, BE SMART ABOUT YOUR HEART!

By Shayna Bryan (UAB Community Health & Human Services Intern) and Dr. Larrell L. Wilkinson

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Every February since 1964, Americans have celebrated American Heart Month! Why? According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death among American adults and most ethnic/racial groups. Heart disease the body’s circulatory system, i.e. your veins and arteries. There are several forms of heart disease, but some of the most common include heart attack and coronary artery disease. According to the American Heart Association , a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is interrupted, thus the oxygen supply to the heart muscle is reduced or completely cut off. This is important because the CDC estimates that 805,000 heart attacks occur annually in the United States.

Among Americans, non-Hispanic Black (African Americans) are at great risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association reports that about half of African-American women over the age of 20 have some form of heart disease, yet only about 1 out of 3 know their heart health risk. Around 50,000 African-American women die from cardiovascular disease annually. But we can prevent the deaths and reduce the number of our families impacted by heart disease. Here is what we can do:

Step 1: Learn your risk for heart disease.

Visit your doctor and ask for diagnostic tests for coronary heart disease. If you don’t have a personal physician or access to health care, contact Jefferson County Department of Health or your local county health department for assistance.

In general, any individual who has been diagnosed with any of these conditions is at risk for heart disease:

• Overweight or obesity
• High blood pressure
• Diabetes
• Physical inactivity
• Family history (first degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has had a heart attack or stroke before age 50)

Step 2: Work to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Photo by Laura James on Pexels.com

Eat healthy
Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Five servings a day is the recommended minimum, so aim even higher by making vegetables half of your meal. Lower your sodium intake by eating more home cooked meals, instead of fast food. Drink water, not soda or juice which is high in added sugars.

Be active
Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity every week. That’s only around 20 minutes a day. You can make walking part of your routine. Try going for a walk and talking to a friend on the phone. Any activity that elevates your heart rate will improve your health and help lower your risk.

Manage stress
Stress management is important for heart health. Eating healthy and staying active can help keep your stress levels down. Learn what triggers your stress and address it by slowing down and engaging in meditation or breathing exercises.

Step 3: Always look for the signs of a heart attack

According to the American Heart Association, women are somewhat less likely than men to experience chest pain. Instead, they are more likely to experience:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Pressure or tightness in the chest
  • Stomach pain

To learn more about heart disease in women, please click on the links above. Additional resources include the following links:

https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/signs-and-symptoms-in-women/symptoms-of-a-heart-attack

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/african-americans-and-heart-disease-stroke

https://www.heart.org/-/media/phd-files-2/science-news/2/2021-heart-and-stroke-stat-update/2021_stat_update_factsheet_black_race_and_cvd.pdf?la=en

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health