The first study showed a sesame and rice bran oil blend reduced blood pressure almost as well as a commonly used medication. And the second study found that people who routinely eat yogurt are less likely to develop high blood pressure.
"Taken together, the two studies are very supportive of the DASH eating plan," says Rachel Johnson, PhD, RD. She is the Bickford Green and Gold professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington and an AHA spokeswoman. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is loaded with fruits and vegetables, and is low in saturated fat and salt.
"DASH recommends two or three servings of heart-healthy fats a day, and that is where sesame and rice oil fit in," she says. DASH also calls for two to three servings a day of fat-free or low-fat dairy products, including yogurt.
AHA: Healthy Fat Is In, Low Fat Is Out
The new studies "strengthen what we already know about diet and blood pressure," Johnson says.
In the first study of 300 people with high blood pressure, participants either took medication to control their blood pressure, incorporated 35 grams of the blended sesame and rice bran oil each day into their diets, or did both for 60 days. The oil blend lowered the top number of the blood pressure reading by 14 and the bottom reading by 10.8; the medication lowered the top number by 16.2 and bottom number by 12. People who took medication and used the oil had more than twice the drop in blood pressure compared to those who did one or the other.
The oil blend used in the new study is called Vivo and is not yet commercially available. Both types of oil are available commercially on their own, though.
Johnson adds that judicious use of other heart-healthy fats -- including olive oil, avocado, nut butters, fatty fish, and flaxseed -- may have similar benefits. (The AHA recommends limiting the total amount of fat you eat to less than 25% to 35% of your daily calories.)
In the yogurt study, about 2,000 adults without high blood pressure were followed for 14 years. The researchers found that participants were 31% less likely to develop high blood pressure if more than 2% of their daily calories came from yogurt.
They also had lower increases in the top blood pressure reading compared to people who didn't eat yogurt.
The new findings are very much in line with what many dietitians recommend, says Despina Hyde, RD. She is a registered dietitian at New York University Langone Medical Center.
Is Yogurt Good for Your Heart?
"Yogurt is a good source of calcium, and many studies have shown that calcium can help keep blood pressure levels under control," she says. But steer clear of full-fat yogurt or whole milk because they have more saturated fat, which can raise levels of low density lipoprotein (or "bad" cholesterol), she says.
"Overall, these studies confirm that diet does make a difference in high blood pressure control, and in some cases foods can work almost like medicine to lower blood pressure," says Pao-Hwa Lin,PhD. She is an associate professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.
More studies are needed to confirm the findings, she says. Lin cautions against too much of a good thing. "Even heart-healthy fats have calories," she says. "You need to be careful how much you include in your diet, as obesity is another risk factor for high blood pressure and heart disease."
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.
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