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February, 2008

At the Heart of the Matter: Change Your Diet, Live Longer

By Christina Pirello

In 1963, Congress passed legislation mandating that the President issue an annual proclamation making February "American Heart Month" and urging the American people to educate themselves about the national problem of heart and cardiovascular disease, and to support essential programs searching for a solution.

For the 2008 American Heart Month , we are urging everyone to take a closer look at your diet and those of your loved ones. Evidence is mounting daily that changes in the diet can lead to better heart health. Whether we look at recent examples from the media or from scientific circles, the conclusions are the same: by modifying your diet, you can improve your chances for lasting heart health. Just take a look at the information below.

The Hawaii Diet

In January 1998, Dateline NBC featured a segment on the Hawaii Diet. The diet, promoted by Dr. Terry Shintano (author of the Hawaii Diet Cookbook, Health Foundation Press), has been shown to help people shed weight, improve their heart health, and lower their risk of other disease (like diabetes) by emphasizing a low calorie, low fat, high fiber diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. When people follow the diet’s recommendations (no red meat, cheese, or other dairy products are allowed), they wind up eating more food in terms of weight, but less in terms of calories. More importantly, people see dramatic improvements in cholesterol counts and blood pressure.

Experience of Gov. Cayetano & Cabinet

In January 1997, Hawaii Governor Benjamin Cayetano and several members of his cabinet began the diet. During the three week program, Cayetano lost 12 pounds and his cholesterol dropped an amazing 70 points. Charles Toguchi, the governor’s chief of staff, was pleased when within 10 days of starting the diet, his doctor said his blood pressure had improved so much he could stop taking prescribed medication.

Average Results

In fact, in the governor’s group, average cholesterol decreased 23.6%. At the start of the diet, 11 people had cholesterol counts over 200; at the end, only one had a count over 200. Average triglycerides decreased by 36.3%, and average blood pressure dropped from 130/79 to 120/75. The principle behind the Hawaii Diet is simple. Meals filled with brown rice (or taro root), tomato, sweet potato, greens and other vegetables, bananas, papaya, and fish have far fewer calories and fat than typical American meals of cheeseburgers, fries, and milk shakes (about 450 fewer calories, and 50 fewer grams of fat in this particular example). For more information about the Hawaii Diet. The 1997 Prevention Scientific Research Group Study A 1997 study sponsored in part by the Prevention Scientific Research Group at the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute suggested that a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure as quickly and effectively as prescription drugs.

Study Specifics

The study was conducted on 459 adults at the following six medical centers: Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge; Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Duke University Medical School in Durham, and the Kaiser-Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon. Half the subjects were women and more than 60 percent were African-American (who have higher rates of high blood pressure than other groups). Participants were divided into three groups: Those who ate a typical American diet; those who ate a diet high in fruits and vegetables (with all other foods remaining the same); and those who ate a combination diet--low in overall fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and high in fruits and vegetables.

Study Results

The combination diet won hands down, reducing systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of 5.5 millimeters and diastolic pressure by an average of 3 millimeters in just 2 short weeks. The second diet also reduced both systolic and diastolic pressures, but somewhat less. Diet Tips How do you apply these impressive results to your diet? The successful study diets included 9-10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Denise Simons-Morton, MD, leader of the Prevention Scientific Research Group, recommends eating two American-sized servings of fruits or vegetables at each of your three daily meals, then adding one or two fruit or vegetable snacks between meals (Your Health, 4 February 1997, pp22-23). As you can see from the diets mentioned above, paying closer attention to what you eat can have a big impact on your heart’s overall health. Initially, you may feel as though you are making a sacrifice by changing your diet. However, as your health improves and your energy increases, you may find that you actually prefer your new diet over the old one. Have a heart—change your diet and choose to be healthy.

Hawaii Diet Jacobowitz, Ruth S. "Eat Well to Lower Blood Pressure," Your Health, 4 February 1997, pp22-23.