DASH diet plateBy Charlotte Rommereim, RDN, pig farmer

Did you know that May is High Blood Pressure Education Month? And it is a great time to not only have your blood pressure checked, it is also a great time to learn new ways to help reduce your blood pressure.

According to new statistics from the American Heart Association nearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure. Last November, the guidelines for high blood pressure, also called hypertension, were redefined to a reading higher than 130 over 80. These new guidelines mean that more Americans need to take measures to control high blood pressure.

The good news for those individuals who have high blood pressure is that lifestyle changes could reduce their blood pressure without the use of medication. Those lifestyle changes include the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week and the National Institutes of Health developed-DASH diet or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet.

The DASH diet encourages the addition of healthy foods to our diets. The emphasis is on grains, fruits, and vegetables, low-fat dairy and nuts, seeds and legumes with lean meats (including pork), fish and poultry.

In addition to the NIH website, there are books available including the DASH Diet for Dummies authored by registered dietitians (RDs) Rosanne Rust and Cindy Kleckner, along with Sarah Samaan MD.  Rust and Kleckner joined the National Pork Board on a 2017 farm tour.

Rust states, “In the right portion, lean pork can fit into a DASH Diet eating plan.” Research funded by the Pork Checkoff, confirms this. It showed that adults following the DASH diet could include nutrient-rich lean pork as a source of protein and expect the same results in blood pressure as other lean protein sources.

“The primary strategy in lowering blood pressure is adding more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy to meals to add more potassium, calcium and magnesium,” said Kleckner.

In addition to being an RD and author, Kleckner is a nutritional culinary instructor. She highly recommends pork to her students. “Pork has many lean cuts, wonderful flavor, texture, and performs well in various types of cooking from grilled to roasted, braised to stir-fry,” said Kleckner.

In addition to using the DASH diet to reduce your blood pressure, decreasing sodium intake can also aid in blood pressure reduction. Fresh cuts of pork are naturally lower in sodium, however, processed pork such as bacon and ham is not. Rust describes how we can use favorites like bacon. “While I don’t encourage higher sodium meats to be consumed a regular basis for anyone with heart disease or high blood pressure, they can be used for flavor or an occasional treat. A great example if you crave bacon is to have a large spinach salad for lunch, with only one slice of crumbled bacon on it.”

Both Kleckner and Rust were advocates of the use of lean pork as a protein option in the DASH diet plan before the farm tour. And now they are also advocates of pig farmers. Kleckner says, “After my pig farm tour, I share in my culinary classes the sustainability practices of the pork industry and how dedicated America’s pig farmers are to ensuring animal welfare.”

Rust added, “There is no question that getting the opportunity to see, tour, and talk about what goes on at a farm has a big impact on my perspective about farming and food.”

Pork is used in many cuisines around the world and pairs well with fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are emphasized in the DASH diet. If you are interested in using pork in your DASH diet meal plans, you can view recipes on Yummly or visit pork.org.