My Doctor Told Me to Eat More Plants to Lower My Blood Pressure. What Happened.

My Doctor Told Me to Eat More Plants to Lower My Blood Pressure. What Happened.

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Our columnist’s doctor recommended he try the DASH diet, which stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension.

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When my doctor told me earlier this year that my blood pressure had risen to 146/94, I thought there was a good chance I would end up on meds to control it.

That’s because I was already doing most of the things recommended to lower your blood pressure. I exercise a lot for a 65-year-old. I have never liked salted food. I’m not overweight and only drink alcohol occasionally. It seemed to be me there weren’t any arrows left in my quiver.

There was one, it turned out.

I had been eating a lot of meat, milk, butter, and cheese. My doctor gave me a flier on the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) designed to lower blood pressure in as little as two weeks. It emphasizes foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium—which help control blood pressure—and limits foods high in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.

In practice, that means you eat a lot of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy and avoid fatty meats, limiting yourself to fish and lean poultry.

Within a month on this diet, my blood pressure had dropped more than 10 points. After reading up further on the links between diet and cardiovascular health, I decided to go a step further and move to an even more plant-based diet.

I now go weeks at times without eating meat, and I eat small portions when I do. I used to eat a lot of cheese but now restrict myself to grating a bit of parmesan on my soups and salads. Instead, I fill myself up on oatmeal, soy milk, and fruit in the morning; and whole-grain breads and pasta, lentils or beans and vegetables in my big mid-day meal. When we go out, if I don’t eat vegetarian, I usually will eat fish.

My blood pressure declined some more and my cardiologist is pleased with my numbers. I have had several readings of systolic pressure in recent weeks between 128 and 115. The ideal level is 120 or less. If your blood pressure is over 130, you probably have first-stage hypertension, and if it is over 140, you probably have second-stage hypertension. 

My cholesterol levels, particularly the bad type, have dropped sharply. And though I wasn’t seeking to lose weight, I’ve lost 7 or 8 pounds. I have started doing a few minutes of yoga every night, which may be helping as well. 

It’s been less than six months, and this is only one man’s experience, but I plan to continue with a largely plant-based diet.

To my surprise, I don’t crave most of the food I’ve given up, including the hamburgers, steaks, and pork chops I used to feast on. The one food from my past I do miss at times is butter. There is nothing better than toast with butter.

Eating more plants has made me all too aware of my shortcomings as a cook. It was easy to prepare a meal when all I had to do was throw a piece of meat in a frying pan and rustle up a few other things to go with it. Now, I have to plan out my meals and spend a lot more time slicing and preparing vegetables or cooking lentils. This old dog is learning new tricks or at least trying to.

All in all, I’m happy with my new diet. I don’t feel the heaviness I felt after a big meal before. And without meat on the plate, it seems to me that I more intensely taste the foods I am eating.

Perhaps I should have made the switch away from meat earlier. But mostly, I’m thrilled that doing what the doctor ordered is working so far. 

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