Thank you, readers, for these and all the other great questions you sent for National Nutrition Month.
From Anna B. in Arizona: “I have high blood pressure. How can I lower my blood pressure through diet (I eat a vegan diet) in order to get off the medication?”
Dear Anna (my grandmother’s name by the way): There is plenty of evidence that your plant-based diet is effective at lowering blood pressure, including a 2021 review of 39 clinical trials in the Journal of Hypertension. Interestingly, the analysis found that several types of plant-based diets effectively control blood pressure, including DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), Mediterranean, vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian diets (those that include eggs and dairy foods).
Other dietary factors besides fruits and vegetables influence blood pressure, though. Calcium, for example, helps control blood pressure. And cutting back on excess sodium (salt) also helps. Whether you can get off your medication, however, depends on your health condition and the advice of your medical provider.
Francie K. in Tucson, Arizona, writes: “I would love to know what your thoughts are on the keto diet in relation to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s.”
It’s a complex topic, Francie. And one I’m most interested in, since my dad suffered with Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that causes a decline in memory, thinking and behavioral skills.
Keto stands for ketogenic — a diet that is 90% fat and extremely low in carbohydrates. Its purpose is to create a state of ketosis, which, simply put, forces the body to rely on fat instead of carbohydrates as its primary fuel.
According to a 2019 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, there is some evidence that this diet may help protect aging brain cells. That’s why it has gained interest as a potential therapy for disorders like Alzheimer’s. How it works is still under study, however.
As you may guess, this type of diet over the long term can create nutritional deficiencies and digestive problems, not to mention the difficulty of sticking to such a limited diet. Still, the research so far is intriguing, and further studies will hopefully give us more answers.
Sue L. in Santa Cruz, California, asks: “I have been using the fiber supplement Metamucil for several years now. Will using an artificial supplement (not food source) cause any harm? I maintain a healthy weight with a good diet and regular exercise. But adding Metamucil has resulted in effortless regularity. My only concern is the safety.”
Actually, Sue, this product is made with a natural plant fiber called psyllium. And there are a lot of good things associated with its use when taken as directed with adequate amounts of water. Psyllium is the only fiber recommended for treatment of constipation and irritable bowel syndrome by the American College of Gastroenterology, according to a 2021 article in Nutrition Today. And there is good evidence that it can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. As always, check with your doctor.
Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and syndicated columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at [email protected]