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For Beating Hypertension, Yogurt May Be Next Superfood

For Beating Hypertension, Yogurt May Be Next Superfood: Main Image
Try nonfat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream and mayonnaise on a baked potato
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypertension (high blood pressure) affects one of every three adults in the United States and is implicated in nearly half of all heart disease. It's not all doom and gloom, however. Along with sensible steps, such as maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise, eating yogurt may be one of the smartest things you can do to keep high blood pressure at bay.

Tracking the effects of yogurt

Researchers followed approximately 2,000 adults for 15 years, periodically collecting information about their diets, and tracking their blood pressure numbers over time. None of the study participants had high blood pressure at the start of the study, and those who regularly consumed yogurt were more likely to avoid hypertension in the future as well.

Participants who averaged at least one 6-ounce serving of low-fat yogurt every three days were 31% less likely to develop high blood pressure. They also experienced a slower increase in systolic blood pressure--the top number--over time. Nearly all adults experience some rise in blood pressure with age; this study suggests eating yogurt may blunt that tendency.

Uncontrolled high systolic pressure increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure, kidney damage, and blindness. If adding yogurt into the diet can keep this number in the healthy range, that is good news indeed.

Putting it in perspective

The research was presented at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research 2012 Scientific Sessions. Study findings presented at medical conferences have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, so the results are considered preliminary at this point.

Still, the results make sense. The study agrees with other research, which supports an important role for low-fat dairy and other calcium-rich foods in maintaining normal blood pressure. Despina Hyde, a registered dietitian at New York University Langone Medical Center notes, "Yogurt is a good source of calcium, and many studies have shown that calcium can help keep blood pressure levels under control."

Other minerals also may contribute to yogurt's positive blood pressure effects. It is a good source of potassium and magnesium and both of these nutrients have been shown to help maintain blood pressure in the healthy range. Another interesting possibility is that probiotics--the healthy bacteria found in fermented foods--may help regulate blood pressure. Though research is preliminary, and researchers aren't yet sure which strains of bacteria may be most beneficial for lowering blood pressure, yogurt is one way to get more of these potentially health-promoting microbes into your body.

Getting your yogurt fix

Keep the following in mind as you add yogurt to your nutrition plan:

  • Go low. Stick to low-fat or non-fat varieties. Few need the extra calories and saturated fat found in full-fat varieties.
  • Substitute smartly. Try nonfat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream and mayonnaise on a baked potato, or to make a tuna sandwich.
  • Make your own. Instead of presweetened varieties, start with plain yogurt and add your own fruit and a little swirl of honey for flavor, to minimize sugar.
  • DASH to health. Try the DASH--Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension--diet. You can find free information about this nutrition plan online, or in the health section of your local library.

(Abstract 188; American Heart Association High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions: September 21, 2012; Washington, DC)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.