Can the Ornish diet reduce high blood pressure?

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Thirty percent of Arizona adults, and nearly 60 percent of those 65 and older, have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Also known as hypertension, it's a leading cause of heart disease.

HonorHealth Ornish diet tips

What you eat impacts your blood pressure. The Ornish diet, created by Dean Ornish, MD, can help you reduce your numbers.

The Ornish plan focuses on a vegetarian diet that emphasizes vegetables and fruit, whole grains and legumes, said Eileen Bales, registered dietitian with the HonorHealth Cardiac Rehabilitation program. The plan eliminates meat and cheese and highly restricts dairy and processed foods. Sugar and its related products are out as well.

The kicker? Less than 10 percent of your daily calories can come from fat.

"Most Americans consume around 40 percent of fat in their daily calories," Eileen noted. "It's not just a diet; it's a total commitment to a certain lifestyle. The philosophy is that you should be able to eat more and weigh less, which is the premise of a lot of vegetarian diets, if followed properly."

Followers also are encouraged to meditate each day. Through reflection, you may be able to explore your reasons for overeating. You're also encouraged to exercise regularly. And when you eat, you should focus solely on mindful eating. That means no TV, no Netflix, no web browsing.

"The thinking is that overeating is caused by emotional isolation," Eileen said. "There are people who eat because they're lonely."

If you plan to follow the Ornish diet, you'll need to:

  • Plan meals in advance.
  • Enjoy cooking.
  • Shop regularly for fresh produce.
  • Review menus if you're planning to eat out with friends.

You won't need to measure portions or follow a prescribed meal plan.

"In our American culture, it would be very hard to follow this diet consistently," Eileen observed. "You're trying to be a vegan in a meat-loving culture."

If you're concerned about creating a variety of meals, the good news is that Dr. Ornish's books include are a variety of recipes, many created by renowned chefs.

The best news? "Eating this way can improve blood pressure and reverse heart disease — research has shown this," Eileen said.