Eating heart-healthy Chinese food may lower blood pressure

New research shows that eating a modified version of traditional Chinese food that contains half the amount of sodium may significantly lower blood pressure for Chinese adults within a few weeks.

The study, published Monday in the American Heart Association Journal of Circulation, found that changing traditional Chinese cuisine to reduce fat intake, double dietary fiber and increase protein, carbohydrates and potassium helped people with high blood pressure lower their systolic (the top number) and diastolic levels ( bottom figure) over a four-week period.

The modified Chinese diet was modeled on the Heart-Healthy Diet to Stop Hypertension (DASH). Eating an unhealthy diet, especially one rich in sodium, is a modifiable risk factor for high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which has increased rapidly in China in recent decades due to unhealthy dietary changes, such as eating less grains, legumes and vegetables and significantly increasing meat, eggs and oils.

“Chinese people living in the United States and elsewhere often maintain a traditional Chinese diet, which is very different from the Western diet,” study co-leader Dr Yangfeng Wu said in a press release. Wu is a professor at Peking University Clinical Research Institute in Beijing. “Healthy Western diets such as DASH and Mediterranean have been developed and shown to help lower blood pressure. However, to date, a heart-healthy diet has not been developed to suit traditional Chinese cuisine.”

More than a fifth of the world’s population eats Chinese food regularly. The findings suggest that if the heart-healthy diet is maintained, it could reduce major cardiovascular disease by 20%, heart failure by 28%, and death from any cause by 13%.

In the study, 265 Chinese adults with high blood pressure were randomly assigned to eat a diet consistent with their usual eating style or a modified, heart-healthy version of traditional Cantonese, Szechuan, Shandong, or Huayang cuisine for 28 days.

Eating heart-healthy meals reduced participants’ calories from fat by 11%, increased calorie intake from carbohydrates by 8%, and increased calories from protein by 4%. The intake of fiber, potassium, magnesium and calcium increased in the modified-food group, while sodium decreased by half — from nearly 6,000 milligrams a day to about 3,000.

Blood pressure was measured before and after the study period and once a week while the participants ate the assigned diets. Despite lower blood pressure in both groups, participants who ate heart-healthy versions of their traditional diets saw a much greater reduction. Their systolic blood pressure decreased, on average, by an additional 10 mm Hg compared to the control group. Diastolic blood pressure decreased by an additional 4 mmHg. The results were comparable across the four regional cuisine styles.

The cost of preparing the modified version of the diets was the equivalent of 60 cents a day in US dollars, which the researchers said was considered affordable. They also reported that the flavor and taste of the modified diet was comparable to conventional meals and that participants ate similar amounts of food.

“Health experts should recommend a heart-healthy diet with low sodium and high potassium, fiber, vegetables and fruit as the first line of treatment for their patients with high blood pressure,” Wu said. “Since traditional Chinese food culture and cooking methods are often used wherever Chinese live, I believe a heart-healthy Chinese diet and the principles we used to develop the diet will be beneficial to Chinese Americans as well.”

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