May 20, 2007/Disease Risk Factor Week -- Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for two of the leading causes of death in this country -- heart disease and stroke -- and affects more than 65 million Americans.

To coincide with National High Blood Pressure Education Month and American Stroke Month, both in May, Dairy Council of California's Meals Matter website features a DASH-friendly cookbook with 31 recipes, one for each day of the month, to naturally help lower the risk and severity of hypertension in adults.

According to various studies, the DASH plan, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, can substantially lower blood pressure in those with mild hypertension. The plan includes three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy per day, along with eight to ten daily servings of fruits and vegetables. This eating pattern is naturally low in saturated and total fat while being high in calcium, potassium and magnesium -- nutrients associated with decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Add whole grains and physical activity to the DASH pattern and its elements coincide with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Therefore, the DASH pattern is a healthy eating plan for everyone, not just those concerned with high blood pressure or stroke.

"The risk of hypertension increases with age," said Deborah Allen, registered dietitian and cooking/nutrition instructor with the California WellBeing Institute. "Men and women in their early 40s to early 60s, generally considered as baby boomers, are at high risk. Many people don't know they have high blood pressure. For many, there aren't any obvious symptoms.

"Utilizing the guidelines of the DASH plan -- which is full of nutrient-rich foods like low-fat dairy, as well as fruits and vegetables -- combined with physical activity, is a great, natural way to decrease the risk of high blood pressure. Preparing your own meals is an important way to take control of your health."

One easy way to way to follow the DASH plan is to add a piece of low-fat string cheese and a piece of fruit to a midday meal. For a great snack, try adding a warm berry compote over low-fat yogurt (recipe follows). The Meals Matter website's DASH cookbook features a collection of recipes for entrees, salads, side dishes and more.

In addition to the DASH-friendly cookbook, Meals Matter also has hypertension information available, including various articles on healthy eating, restaurant eating when you have hypertension and downloadable DASH-related tip sheets. Some tips and information on hypertension are also available in Spanish in the "En Espanol" section.

"Excessive body weight, high sodium intake and smoking are all risk factors that can lead to hypertension," said Allen. "It is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly to ensure your health."

From the May 23, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash