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Dr. Thomas Moore on High Blood Pressure
If you were recently diagnosed with hypertension, you’ll likely have heard of the DASH diet. Short for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension,” the DASH diet is comprised of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and little sodium, and is so effective at lowering high blood pressure that it is recommended by the U.S. Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association. Thomas J. Moore, M.D., was the chairman of the steering committee that created the DASH diet. Moore has had a distinguished career. He is currently the associate provost at Boston University Medical Center, and director of the Office of Clinical Research there. Formerly, he was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School for 24 years and served as Merck & Co.’s executive medical director in the northeast from 1995 to 2000. He is the senior author of The DASH Diet for Hypertension. In this interview, Moore explains why the DASH diet is so effective at lowering high blood pressure.
When a person is diagnosed with high blood pressure, what are the first things they should know?
Hypertension is not unusual. More than 25% of adults in this country have high blood pressure, so they’re not alone, and it is a condition that can be treated and controlled. Next, there are [a number of] lifestyle steps you can take to lower blood pressure, and there are about 60 drugs that can successfully treat hypertension so doctors can almost always find a successful treatment for them. It is not a curable condition, though, so there are steps the patient will have to take to achieve an ongoing control of their hypertension.
How effective is the DASH diet at lowering high blood pressure?
To date there are about 80+ papers in scientific literature on the DASH diet. We no longer see the DASH diet as just a means to lower high blood pressure. It has become an overall healthier way to eat, and in fact the DASH diet and the food pyramid are now the models for the way the U.S. Dietetic Association recommends that all Americans should eat. The DASH diet is, though, still very effective as a means for lowering high blood pressure. That has not changed.
Do you follow the DASH diet yourself?
I do. I can’t say I do it perfectly. I don’t think anyone does. But I’ve modified my diet quite a bit since I started working with the DASH study in 1992, and I do feel really good most of the time.
What is the easiest thing about incorporating DASH into a lifestyle change?
It’s so easy to understand. I tell people you can shop for the DASH diet without taking your glasses with you because there’s little need to read labels and count up milligrams of this or that. DASH teaches people to eat according to food groups and numbers of servings each individual needs per day. Most of those foods are whole foods. That is to say, you’re picking out fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and proteins that can be simply prepared at home, and you’re avoiding prepackaged foods. There are eight food groups, so you only need to remember the eight numbers which relate to how many servings of each food group you should be consuming each day.
We don’t tell you what to eat. When the diet says “one serving of fruit” we don’t specify dried fruit or fruit juice or whole fruit. Those decisions are up to you. The only other thing you have to remember is the size of a serving. You can find information on how to measure servings on the Dash for Health web site. Once you have those things committed to memory, the plan is really easy to follow.
What’s the most difficult thing about switching to the DASH diet?
I think the hardest thing is changing habits. If you think about it, how we eat is something we’ve been practicing all our lives. For most people, the difficulty is in moving past the bad eating habits they’ve acquired over the years and replacing them with better eating habits as suggested by the DASH diet.
The best way to address changes in your diet is to remember that eating is a decision. Each time you eat, you make a decision about what goes in your body. You’re in control of those decisions, and as long as you‘re honest with yourself you can make better decisions about what you eat to help facilitate lowering your high blood pressure.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
Be sure you are making a change for the right reasons. Once you are sure of that, commit to it 100%.
The best thing about change is...
...that change can be a way to reinvigorate yourself by learning new things, meeting new people, acquiring new skills, and—maybe most important—finding that you have capabilities you never knew about before.
What is the best change you have ever made?
After 25 years at Harvard, it was hard to move to a job in the pharmaceutical industry. And after five years there, it was hard to move back to academia. But both moves worked out great. The skills I had acquired in each of those positions prepared me for success in my next one.
For more information on Dr. Thomas Moore, visit www.dashforhealth.com.