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Lower your blood pressure by following DASH diet concepts

Follow the DASH Diet and you should lower your blood pressure, lose weight and feel great. The diet advocates eating more whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein while eating fewer processed grains and high-fat meats and less sugar and sodium.

Though the guidelines of The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet are easy to understand they can be difficult to follow.

How do you add flavor to your food when you can’t add fat, sugar and salt?

Answering that question is the purpose of “Fresh & Healthy DASH Diet Cooking,” a cookbook from Ulysses Press, that retails for $17.95.

Recipe developer Andrea Lynn created and tested recipes for the book with nutritional guidance from dietician Matt Kadey.

Andrea was excited to work on the project for personal reasons. Because heart disease runs in her family, she knows how important it is to give high-fat dishes a healthy makeover.

As she tested recipes, she learned to replace butter with buttermilk when making mashed potatoes, sour cream was replaced with Greek yogurt in baked dishes and cooked vegetables got a squeeze of fresh citrus instead of a pat of butter.

She also discovered that many dishes still tasted good when she used less butter and oil than indicated in the recipe.

“I think when you grow up in the South you’re like ‘yay butter.’ But you can often cut it in half,” she said.

Having been raised in Aniston, Ala., Andrea knows that women wanting to cook healthy meals for their families have to pick their battles.

Replacing fried chicken with tofurkey is not likely to please anyone.

Even unhealthy foods are OK to eat once in awhile, Andrea said.

She loves fried chicken and refuses to strike it from her diet. Instead, she limits her portions and doesn’t make it often.

“I think if you try to eliminate things you crave it even more,” she said.

To control portions, Andrea suggests serving meals on salad plates instead of dinner plates.

And don’t serve all the members of your family the same portion. “You don’t have to eat as much as your husband,” she said.

Here are a few other tips:

"I'm a total carnivore but I've had some good vegetarian sausage." Instead of biscuits and gravy, try veggie gravy over baked potato instead. Make the gravy with low-fat milk and vegetarian sausage.

Add oats and grated vegetables to meatloaf to get some extra nutrients in picky kids' bellies.

Add pureed yellow squash to sauces. "Stuff it in everything. The color is so light and no one tastes it."

Snack on nuts and dried fruits instead of potato chips and cookies.

Keep a few granola bars in your purse to eat when you're out and about.

Read labels. Things aren't always as advertised. Be careful with those artificial sweeteners.

Be careful with sodas. Try to reduce intake rather than switching to diet.

Be careful not to eat more of something low-fat. I think it's just better to get something tastier and have a smaller snack.

A little bit of acid always helps in a recipe. Add a little lime juice to shrimp. Experiment with different acidities. "With limes, lemons and oranges, just a little squirt will help."

Instead of salt, add spices and dried herbs to foods. Look for rosemary and thyme.

White Beans, Pesto and Shrimp

Serves 4

2 (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup prepared pesto

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

Combine the beans and pesto thoroughly in a large bowl. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Sauté the shrimp until pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with pepper and lemon juice. Divide the pesto beans among serving bowls, top with the shrimp, and serve.

Do the DASH: Cannellini beans are a significant source of dietary fiber, which the DASH Diet encourages people to eat more of as studies suggest it reduces one's risk for heart disease, certain cancers and obesity. Look for Eden Organic brand of canned beans, as they offer "no salt added" options.

Shopping Tip: Store-bought pesto can be very high in sodium, so compare labels for the lowest-salt options, or, better yet, pull out the food processor and make your own. The Web is chockablock with simple, creative pesto recipes.

Nutrition Per Serving: 392 calories; 32 grams protein; 33 grams carbohydrate; 12 grams fiber; 14 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 416 mg sodium

Chicken with Jalapeño-Cilantro Sauce

Serves 4

½ cup plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

3½ tablespoons canola oil, divided

1½ teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons ground cumin

4 skin-on, boneless chicken breasts (about 2½ pounds)

3 jalapeño chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 cup loosely packed cilantro, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

cup low-fat mayonnaise

1 tablespoon water

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine ½ cup of the lime juice, 2 tablespoons canola oil, paprika, and cumin in a small bowl. Put the chicken in a zippered bag, pour in the marinade, close securely, turn over and around to distribute the marinade, and put the bag in a bowl (in case of leakage). Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Meanwhile, make the sauce: Combine the chiles, cilantro, garlic, mayonnaise, remaining lime juice, water, salt, and pepper to a food processor. Puree until smooth, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Taste and adjust the salt and lime juice as needed. Transfer to a container, and refrigerate until needed.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat 1½ tablespoons canola oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan or skillet over high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and carefully add to the pan skin-side down. Cook the chicken until browned, about 8 minutes. Turn the chicken over, and cook another 2 minutes. Roast the chicken breasts in the oven to an internal temperature of 165°F, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with the jalapeño-cilantro sauce.

Do the DASH: Herbs such as cilantro are a great way to punch up the flavor of the dishes for very little caloric cost. Plus, most of them contain a range of beneficial antioxidants and nutrients like vitamin C, which has been shown to keep blood pressure numbers healthy. Remember: The chicken skin adds flavor during the cooking process, but is best to remove before eating to save on calories.

Shopping Tip: The best flavor comes from squeezing fresh limes or lemons for their juice as opposed to buying pre-made bottled juice.

Nutrition Per Serving: 324 calories; 28 grams protein; 5 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 21 grams fat (2 grams saturated); 376 mg sodium

Couscous with Dried Cranberries and Pine Nuts

Serves 4

2 teaspoons canola oil

¼ cup pine nuts

2 cups reduced-sodium vegetable stock

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup couscous, preferably whole wheat

cup dried cranberries

2 scallions, coarsely chopped

Heat the canola oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the pine nuts, cooking until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the vegetable stock, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and add the couscous and cranberries. Remove from the heat, cover with a lid, and let sit for 10 minutes. Fluff the couscous and stir in the scallions. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Do the DASH: With the water removed, dried fruits like cranberries are a concentrated source of heart-healthy nutrients like antioxidants. However, they are higher in calories than their fresh counterparts, so portion control is prudent.

Shopping Tip: Once a rarity, most grocery stores are now carrying whole wheat couscous, which is a nutritional step up from its more refined counterpart.

Nutrition Per Serving: 283 calories; 7 grams protein; 45 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber; 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated); 657 mg sodium

Roasted Asparagus with Orange Zest

Serves 4

2 bunches asparagus, trimmed

1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and spread the asparagus in rows. Drizzle with the olive oil and orange juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until the asparagus is tender, about 20 minutes. Garnish with the orange zest, and serve.

Do the DASH: The DASH Diet stresses eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods. That is, foods that contain a large amount of nutrients in relation to their calories. At only 27 calories per 1-cup serving yet packed with folate, vitamin C, iron, and fiber, asparagus surely fits the bill.

Shopping Tip: When using citrus zest for recipes, you may want to splurge for organic since you are using the outside of the fruit that may contain pesticide residues.

Nutrition Per Serving: 99 calories; 5 grams protein; 11 grams carbohydrate; 5 grams fiber; 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated); 150 mg sodium