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 medication to control it.
This is because I was already doing most of the things recommended to lower my blood pressure. I do sports a lot for a 65-year-old. I have never liked salty food. I am not overweight and only drink alcohol occasionally. It seemed to me that I had no arrows left in my pocket.
There was one, it turns out.
I was eating a lot of meat, milk, butter and cheese. My doctor gave me a flyer on The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Designed to lower blood pressure in as little as 2 weeks. Focus on foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium — which help control blood pressure — and limit foods high in sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars.
In practice, this means that you eat plenty of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products, avoid fatty meats, and limit yourself to fish and lean poultry.
Within a month of following this diet, my blood pressure dropped by more than 10 points. After reading more about the links between Diet and cardiovascular healthI decided to take it a step further and switch to a more vegan diet.
Now I sometimes go weeks without eating meat, eating small amounts when I do. I used to eat a lot of cheese but now I limit myself to grating a little Parmesan over soups and salads. Instead, I satiate myself with oatmeal, soy milk, and fruit in the morning. Whole-grain bread, pasta, lentils, beans, and vegetables are in my big midday meal. When we go out, if I don’t eat vegetarian, I usually eat fish.
My blood pressure dropped even more, and my cardiologist is happy with my numbers. I’ve had several systolic pressure readings in the last weeks between 128 and 115. The ideal level is 120 or less. If your blood pressure is over 130, you likely have stage 1 hypertension, and if it is over 140, you likely have stage 2 hypertension.
My cholesterol levels, especially the bad kind, have dropped drastically. And even though I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I lost 7 or 8 pounds. I’ve started doing yoga for a few minutes each night, which may also help.
It’s been less than six months, and this is only a one man experience, but I plan to continue following a largely vegan diet.
To my surprise, I don’t crave most of the food I gave up on, including the hamburgers, steaks, and pork chops I used to feast on. The only food from the past that I sometimes miss is butter. There is nothing better than buttered toast.
Eating more plants has made me fully 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 into a frying pan and swish a few other things to go along with it. Now, I have to plan my meals and spend a lot of time chopping and preparing vegetables or cooking lentils. This old dog is learning new tricks or at least trying it.
In general, I am happy with my new diet. I don’t feel the heaviness I felt after eating a big meal before. And without meat on the plate, it seems to me that I taste more intensely the foods I eat.
Maybe I should have steered clear of meat earlier. But mostly, I’m thrilled that doing what the doctor ordered has been working so far.
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