Hypertension/DASH diet

One of the major chronic diseases in the US is high blood pressure also known as hypertension. Hypertension is when a person is unable to maintain blood pressure in a healthy range. Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because there are no obvious symptoms of this disease. This is why it is important for people to get their blood pressure checked regularly. Nearly 30% of US adults have hypertension and another 28% are termed prehypertension. Hypertension increases risks for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, reduce brain function and impair physical mobility.

Optimal systolic blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg and optimal diastolic blood pressure is less than 80 mm Hg. Prehypertension is when systolic is between 120 and 139 mm Hg or diastolic between 80 and 89 mm Hg. Hypertension is when systolic is greater than 140 mm Hg an diastolic is greater than 90 mm Hg.

Hypertension is unknown for most people. 5-10% of people with hypertension causes may be due to kidney disease, sleep apnea or chronic alcohol abuse. It’s estimated that half of the adults with hypertension have a condition known as salt sensitivity. This is when people respond to high salt intake by experiencing an increase in blood pressure and also have a decrease in blood pressure when salt is too low. People who don’t experience this are known as salt resistant.

There are five primary lifestyle changes to help reduce hypertension:

  • Lose weight
  • Increase physical activity
  • Reduce alcohol intake
  • Reduce sodium intake in salt sensitive individuals
  • Eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy

Remember, not everyone with hypertension is sensitive to sodium. Because lowering sodium intake doesn’t reduce blood pressure for all individuals, there’s debate about whether or not a low sodium diet is beneficial. However, many different health organizations promote that limiting dietary sodium to 2,300 mg per day is what we should be consuming when the average sodium intake in the US is about 3,400 mg per day.

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a study that was designed to assess the effects of the DASH diet on high blood pressure. The plan is similar to MyPyramid because it is low in fat and high in fiber. This diet also focuses on foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium by including 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day with whole grains and low fat dairy products.

Research studies have shown that by eating the DASH diet there has been positive impact on blood pressure. These researchers have estimated that if all Americans followed this diet, heart disease would reduce by 15% and the number of strokes would be 27% lower. The DASH diet has also shown lower risk of coronary heart disease and stoke in women and the risk for metabolic syndrome.

So, if you are a person living with hypertension, I believe that trying the DASH diet before taking medications is a healthy lifestyle to be choosing. Not only are you choosing healthier, nutritious options, but you will be saving yourself from developing more risks of chronic diseases.

Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

Bottled water has become popular during the past 20 years. It’s estimated that Americans drank almost 9 billion gallons of bottled water in 2007. Many people like the taste of bottled water over tap water and also feel that it is safer and better to be drinking.

The water in the US comes from surface water and groundwater. Surface water comes from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Common contaminants of surface water include runoff from highways, pesticides, animal wastes and industrial wastes. Many cities obtain their water from surface water sources. Ground water comes from underground rock formations called aquifers. People who live in rural areas generally pump groundwater from a well as their water source. Some hazardous substances leaking from waste sites, dumps, landfills and oil and gas pipelines can contaminate the groundwater as well as it having naturally occurring substances like arsenic and high levels of iron.

Water treatment plants treat an purify community water supplies usually with either chlorine or ozone which are effective in killing many contaminants. These plants also check water supplies frequently for hazardous chemicals, minerals and other contaminants. Because of the efforts in the water treatment plants, the US has one of the safest water systems in the world.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors the standards for city water systems. Although the EPA doesn’t monitor water from private wells, it publishes recommendations for owners to help maintain safe water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water. It doesn’t require that bottle water meet higher quality standards than public water. Bottled water is also taken from groundwater and surface water sources. Bottled water is treated and filtered by different methods which is why it tastes and appears different.

Even though bottled water may taste better than tap, there’s no evidence that it’s safer to drink. However, in some areas people don’t have access to safe tap water where bottled water would be a safer alternative for them. And although some brands may contain more minerals than tap water, there are no nutritional advantages over tap water.

Is it worth buying bottled water? For example… If you purchase one bottle 5 days a week, it will cost you around $1.00 which means over a course of  year you have spent over $250 and add over 250 bottles to recycling centers or landfills. Does that seem worth it to you? Also realize that the bottled water is coming exactly from the same sources as your tap water is coming from, only using different treatment methods. What do you think is the right choice here?

Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.

High sodium diets

Over the past 20 years, researchers have linked high sodium intake to an increased risk for high blood pressure for some individuals. Because of this, many people have come to believe that sodium is harmful to the body. However, this is not true because sodium is a valuable nutrient that is essential for survival. Sodium assists with transmission of the nerve signals and aids in muscle contraction and relaxation. The only thing that Americans have problems with is the over consumption of sodium because many snack foods are high in sodium as well as hidden in other foods. High blood pressure is more common in people who consume high sodium diets. Consuming excessive sodium also has been shown to cause increase urinary excretion of calcium in some people. Although sodium deficiencies are rare in the US, they can occur in very active people who drink a lot of water and fail to replace sodium.

A 2007 study in Obesity Research shows that high salt diets are directly associated with more fat cells in the body. Salt makes the fat cells you already have become denser. If you eat a lot salt, your kidneys have to work overtime to excrete the excess. Most people in the US get 4,000 to 6,000 mg of salt a day when the recommended intake is 1,500 to 2,400 mg. Salt builds up in the tissues causing salt-saturated cells and toxicity. This damages the cells and makes the cells not function at their best meaning the bodily processes will suffer. A high salt diet hardens the arteries which makes it more difficult to burn fat. Salt also increases food cravings, which may be the reason why high salt intakes have been linked to obesity.

Ingesting more salt than your body needs results in you retaining more water and becoming bloated. Sodium attracts and holds water increasing blood volume meaning the body expands. When you eat a lot of salt, you could be holding 5-10 pounds of extra water.

Chronically over consuming salt damages the heart, brain, kidneys and arteries. High blood pressure is a very common symptom although even if your blood pressure isn’t high, you may still have salt toxicity without knowing it. The more salt we consume, the more damage we put on the heart. The heart is the most important muscle because it isn’t functioning properly, blood and nutrients can’t get into the muscles, tissues and organs. Salt also contributes to cardiovascular disease which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Lowering salt intake could lower your risk of stomach cancer, osteoporosis, and kidney stones.

Examples of high sodium foods:

  • Meats
  • Regular peanut butter
  • Frozen foods
  • Shellfish
  • Tomato sauce
  • Potato chips
  • Salted pretzels/popcorn
  • Olives
  • Salted nuts
  • Many dips/dressings
  • A lot of different soups
  • Check labels for MSG (monosodium glutamate) often found in chinese food, baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, sodium nitrate

Checking ingredients as well as food labels is important when finding out how much a product contains of salt. Keep in mind that many processed foods are loaded with extra sodium. Eating fresh foods, choosing low sodium products, removing salt from recipes whenever possible, limiting sodium condiments such as ketchup, soy sauce, dressings, and mustard, and using herbs and spices to enhance foods are all steps to limiting your sodium intake. It is important to cutback on your sodium gradually to make your taste buds adjust.


It is currently estimated that 7 million adults in the US are vegetarians and out of these 7 million, 4 million are vegans which means they don’t eat any animal products including dairy foods and eggs. Many vegetarians are college students. There are many different types of vegetarians. Some people consider themselves vegetarians when they regularly eat poultry and fish. Others avoid the flesh of animals, but some consume eggs, milk and cheese. Some avoid all products of animal origin including milk and eggs, and even by-products like candies and puddings made with gelatin. A vegetarian diet that has received a lot of media attention recently is the flexitarian diet. These people are considered semivegitarians who eat mostly plant foods, eggs and dairy but occasionally eat red meat, poultry and fish.

The most common responses for people becoming vegetarians include religious, ethical, safety reasons, ecological benefits and health benefits. Some make the choice for religious or spiritual reasons. Several religions prohibit the consumption of animal flesh. Many vegetarians are also guided by their personal philosophy to choose vegetarianism. These people feel it’s ethically wrong to consume animals and any products from animals because the practices in the modern animal industries are inhumane. There is also a great deal of concern about meat-handling practices because contaminated meat has occasionally made its way into our food supply. Many people also choose vegetarianism because of the concerns about the effect of meat industries on the global environment. Examples include the massive uses of water and grain to feed animals, methane gases and other waste products by animals themselves and increased land use to support livestock. Others also practice vegetarianism because of the health benefits. Research has shown that a balanced vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.

Some health benefits of being a vegetarian include:

  • Reduced intake of fat and total energy, reducing the risk of obesity and lower the person’s risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower blood pressure which could be due to the higher amounts of fruits and vegetables. Also people who consume a vegetarian diet seem to be nonsmokers, drink little or no alcohol, and exercise more regularly
  • Reduced risk of heart disease which could be due to the lower amount of saturated fat and higher consumption of antioxidants found in plant based foods
  • Fewer digestion problems such as constipation and diverticular disease due to the higher fiber content of the diet
  • Reduced risk of kidney disease, kidney stones and gallstones because the lower protein content plus the higher intake of legumes and vegetable proteins may be protective

Some challenges include:

  • Limiting consumption of flesh and dairy products introduces the potential for inadequate intakes of certain nutrients
  • Research indicates that a sign of disordered eating in some female athletes is the switch to a vegetarian diet to use as an excuse to restrict any foods from their diets
  • It’s important to consume soy products, eat complementary proteins and obtain enough energy from other macronutrients to get enough protein
  • It is important to make sure to get enough vitamin D, B12 and riboflavin as well as the minerals zinc and iron. Supplements ay be necessary

Vitamins & minerals to pay attention to:

  • Vitamin B12 is important because it assists with DNA synthesis and protection and growth of nerve fibers. Non-meat and non-dairy sources include, fortified cereals, yeast, soy products and vitamin b12 supplements
  • Vitamin D promotes bone growth. Some non-meat/non-dairy sources include fortified cereals, margarines, soy products, exposure to sunlight, supplementation for those who don’t get enough sunlight
  • Riboflavin promotes release of energy and supports normal vision and skin health. Non-meat/non-dairy sources include whole and enriched grains, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Iron assists with oxygen transport and is involved with making amino acids and hormones. Some good sources include whole grain products, prune juice, dried fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and leafy vegetables
  • Calcium maintains bone health, assists with muscle contraction, blood pressure, and nerve transmission. Good sources of non-meat/non-dairy include fortified soy milk and tofu, almonds, dry beans, leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified juices, fortified breakfast cereals
  • Zinc assists with DNA and RNA synthesis, immune function and growth. Good non-meat/non-dairy sources include whole grain products, wheat germ, beans, nuts and seeds

So overall, a vegetarian diet has many health benefits as long as you make sure you are maintaining a healthful diet including all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need. It is something I believe every healthful individual should try and remember there are a lot of different lifestyles you can choose when becoming a vegetarian!

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease refers to the abnormal condition involving dysfunction of the heart or body’s blood vessels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diseases of the heart are the leading cause of death in the US and stroke is the third leading cause of death. These two disease categories combined account for more than 35% of all deaths annually. About 80 million Americans of all ages suffer from cardiovascular disease and it’s estimated that in 2008 the cost of this disease was $448 billion!

A number of factors have to do with increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease.

  • Being overweight is linked to higher rates of death from this disease because of higher blood pressure, abnormal blood lipids and higher rates of diabetes
  • Physical activity can reduce the risk by improving blood lipid levels, lower resting blood pressure, reducing body fat and weight and improving blood glucose levels
  • Research shows that smokers have a 70% greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease than non smokers
  • High blood pressure stresses the heart and increases the chance that blockage or rupture of a blood vessel will occur
  • The risk for cardiovascular disease is three times higher in women with diabetes and two times higher in men with diabetes
  • Inflammation is now a major initiator of cardiovascular disease. Inflammation occurs as a response to tissue injury. In arterial walls, this injury may be due to physiological stress– high blood pressure, smoking, high blood lipids or poor glucose control. The resulting inflammatory response eventually leads to the formation of plaque in the arterial walls.

You can estimate your risk of developing cardiovascular disease if you know your blood pressure and blood lipid levels. Diet and exercise are aimed at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing high levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol. Maintaining total fat intake within 20%-35% is important to be healthy. The types of fats should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Decreasing dietary saturated fat to less than 7% of total energy intake and cholesterol to 300 mg a day is also important. These will lower your LDL cholesterol level. Selecting lean meats and vegetable alternatives and using fat free or low fat dairy products is a healthful way to lower your cholesterol and fat. Eating throughout the day instead of your calories in the evening right before bed is also a healthy alternative. Also, decreasing your sodium intake to keep blood pressure normal will lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.


Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Alcoholism

The March of Dimes estimates that more than 40,000 babies are born each year with some type of alcohol-related defect. Alcohol is known as a teratogen, which is a substance that causes fetal harm. Because the immature fetal liver can’t break down alcohol, it accumulates in the fetal blood and tissues, increasing the risk of birth defects. The effects of maternal alcohol intake are dose related which means the more the mother drinks, the greater the harm to the fetus. Binge or frequent drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy is more likely to result in birth defects and other permanent abnormalities and alcohol consumption in the third trimester results in low birth weight and growth retardation.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition characterized by malformations of the face, limbs, heart and nervous system. The facial features persist throughout the child’s life. Exposure to alcohol while in the womb impairs fetal growth– babies are born underweight at birth and rarely normalize their growth after birth. Newborn and infant death rates are very high and whose who survive suffer emotional, behavioral, social, learning and developmental problems during their life. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the most common causes of mental retardation in the US and the only one that is preventable.

Fetal alcohol effects are more subtle consequences related to maternal alcohol intake. Although it is not identified at birth, this condition becomes evident when the child enters preschool or kindergarten. The child may show attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or impaired learning abilities. The incidence of fetal alcohol effects is ten times greater than fetal alcohol syndrome.

There is no known amount of alcohol to be safe while pregnant. The best advice to alcohol consumption during pregnancy is to abstain it if there is any chance of becoming pregnant and throughout pregnancy.

Don’t Let Yourself Become An Alcoholic:

  • Alcohol intake increases to 30% more of total energy intake
  • Appetite is lost and intake of healthful foods declines
  • Over time, the diet becomes deficient in protein, fats, carbs, vitamins A and C and minerals iron, zinc and calcium
  • End stage alcoholics may consume as much as 90% of their daily energy from alcohol
  • Long term exposure to alcohol damages the liver, stomach, small intestine and pancreas
  • Alcohol increases gastric acid production, leading to stomach ulcers, gastric bleeding and damage to cells
  • Digestion of foods and absorption of nutrients such as fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), vitamin B6, folate, and zinc become inadequate leading to malnutrition and weight loss
  • Even if an alcoholic took a supplements, the liver would be too damaged that the cells wouldn’t be able to activate it
  • Excessive alcohol intake is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 21 and the third leading cause of all US deaths
  • 600,000 young Americans die each year from alcohol related motor vehicle accidents, suicides and homicides
  • Rates of physical and sexual assaults,  vandalism, accidental falls and drownings increase when people are under the influence of alcohol
  • Men and women who are alcoholics experience increased loss of calcium in the urine, impaired vitamin D activation and decreased production of certain hormones enhancing bone formation
  • Elevated blood glucose levels because the body can’t respond to insulin increasing the risk of diabetes
  • Research has linked alcohol intake to increased risk of cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, liver, colon and female breast

Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance is when the body can’t produce enough amounts of the enzyme lactase in the small intestine and so it can’t digest foods containing lactose. Lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy. People who are allergic to milk have an immune reaction to proteins found in cow’s milk. Some symptoms of a milk allergy are skin rashes, intestinal distress, respiratory symptoms and itchy and watery eyes. Anaphylatic shock can occur if the case is very severe. Lactose intolerance only affects the GI tract and include intestinal gas, bloating, cramping, nausea, diarrhea and discomfort. The symptoms only take a couple of hours to be resolved.

Some infants are born with lactose intolerance but it is more common to see the lactase enzyme activity decrease after 2 years of age. 70% of the world’s population will lose some ability to digest lactose as they age. Lactose intolerance is more common in Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and African American adults than in Caucasians.

Some people with lactose intolerance can digest small amounts of dairy products where as some can’t have any. It’s not necessary for all people with lactose intolerance to avoid all dairy products, they may simply need to eat smaller amounts or try different foods to see what does and what doesn’t cause intestinal distress.

A concern for people with lactose intolerance is getting enough calcium. It’s important to find these foods for normal growth, development, and maintenance of bones. Many people can tolerate formulated milk products that are low in lactose and others can take pills or use drops containing the lactase enzyme when they eat dairy products. Calcium fortified soy milk and orange juice are good sources in substitute for cow’s milk. A lot of people can also digest yogurt and aged cheese because the bacteria or molds used to ferment these products break down the lactose during processing.

Many people discover they have problems digesting dairy products by trial and error. Because intestinal gas, bloating, and diarrhea may relate to other health problems, it’s important to go to a physician to figure out the problem. Some tests include drinking a lactose liquid and testing glucose levels over a 2 hour period. If a normal amount of glucose isn’t produced, that means you were unable to digest the lactose. Another test is measuring hydrogen levels in the breath because more hydrogen will come out when a lactose intolerant person drinks a beverage containing lactose.


Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Diabetes is a chronic disease where the body can’t regulate glucose in normal limits and blood glucose levels become very high. It is important to treat the disease as soon as possible because going from low to high glucose levels excessively can injure tissues in the body. Hyperglycemia is known as higher than normal levels of blood glucose. If diabetes is not controlled it can lead to blindness, seizures, kidney failure, nerve disease, amputations, stroke and heart disease. Uncontrolled diabetes can also lead to ketoacidosis which can result in death.

About 24 million people in the US are diagnosed with diabetes. It is speculated that another 5.7 million people have it, but don’t know it. Diabetes is more common in African Americans, Hispanic or Latino Americans, and American Indians and Alaska Natives. The two main forms are type 1 and type 2. Some women can also develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Symptoms of type 1:

  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irritability

Symptoms of type 2:

  • Any of the type 1 signs
  • Frequent infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts/bruises that heal slowly
  • Tingling/numbness in hands or feet
  • Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections

Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.

Alternative Sweeteners!

Most of us love sweets but want to avoid extra calories and tooth decay. Because sweeteners such as sucrose, fructose, honey and brown sugar contribute energy, they are called nutritive sweeteners. Some other nutritive sweeteners are sugar alcohols like mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. These are popular in sugar-free gums, mints and diabetic candies. Foods with sugar alcohols have health benefits that foods with sugars don’t have such as reduced glycemic response and decreased risk of dental caries. Also, sugar alcohols are absorbed slowly and incompletely from the intestine so they provide less energy than sugar. However, they can attract water into the large intestine and cause diarrhea because they aren’t completely absorbed from the intestine. This is why some people are so sensitive to these types of sugar alcohols.

Alternative sweeteners have been determined as safe for adults, children and individuals with diabetes. It also appears to be safe for pregnant women to consume alternative sweeteners according to the FDA guidelines.

Saccharin: 300 times sweeter than sucrose. Saccharin is sold as “Sweet n’ Low” in the US

Acesulfame-K: a calorie-free sweetener that’s 175 times sweeter than sugar. It’s used to sweeten candies, gums, beverages, instant tea, coffee, gelatins and pudding. It can be used when cooking and the body doesn’t metabolize it, so it’s excreted by the kidneys.

Aspartame: known as the “Equal” packet and NutraSweet. It is one of the most popular alternative sweeteners found in foods and beverages. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It cannot be used in cooking. People who shouldn’t consume aspartame are those with the disease phenylketonuria (PKU). This is a genetic disorder that prevents the breakdown of phenylalanine which is found in aspartame. In a person with PKU, phenylalanine can build up toxic levels in the tissues of the body and cause irreversible brain damage. In the US babies are tested for PKU. Some common food sources include meats and milk.

Sucralose: known as “Splenda”. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar and can be used for cooking. It is used in gum, salad dressings, beverages, gelatin, canned fruits, frozen dairy products and baked goods.

Truvia and PureVia are also 2 zero calorie sweeteners that have been designated by the FDA as safe for use. These are developed from a purified extract of the stevia plant. These two are 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Are you getting enough fiber?

Most people in the US eat only about two servings of fruits or vegetables each day which is below the recommended amount. Breads and cereals are a form of complex carbohydrates however you don’t always know if they are made with whole grains. By looking at the ingredient lists you can see if it is listed as whole wheat flour or just wheat flour. Wheat flour can be highly refined with the bran and other fiber rich portions removed, whereas whole wheat flour is made from whole grains.

The Adequate intake for fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. Most people in the US eat only 12 to 18 grams of fiber each day getting only half of the fiber they need. Even though fiber supplements are out there, it is best to get fiber from food directly because they contain additional nutrients. Eating the amounts of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes that are recommended in the USDA food guide will ensure that you get enough fiber. It’s also important to drink enough fluid as you increase your fiber intake to soften stools. Inadequate intake of fluids as you increase your fiber intake can result in hard, dry stools to make it difficult to pass through the colon. At least eight 8 ounce glasses a day are recommended.

Quick tips for getting enough fiber

  • Select breads and cereals made with whole grains such as wheat, oats, barley, and rye. Make sure the label says whole before the word grain. Choose foods with at least 2 or 3 grams of fiber per serving
  • Buy fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Eat fruits with the skin left on because fiber is mostly found in the skin
  • Frozen vegetables and fruits can be a healthful alternative when fresh products are not available.
  • Be careful when buying canned fruits and vegetables because many are high in sodium and added sugar. Foods that are packed in their own juice are more healthful than those packed in syrups.
  • Eat legumes every day if possible. Canned or fresh beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fiber rich carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Adding these to soups, casseroles and other recipes are good way to eat more of them.

Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.