Heart-healthy, lower sodium version of traditional Chinese cuisine lowered blood pressure

Blood pressure levels dropped significantly among Chinese adults with high blood pressure who ate a modified heart-healthy, lower sodium traditional Chinese cuisine for four weeks, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association’s flagship journal Circulation.

A key feature of the Chinese heart-healthy diet, modeled along the lines of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, was sodium reduction. An unhealthy diet, especially one high in sodium, is a key modifiable risk factor for high blood pressure.

“Compared with the nutrient composition of a usual Chinese diet in urban China, our heart-healthy diet of traditional Chinese cuisine cut sodium in half, from 6,000 mg daily to 3,000 mg daily, reduced fat intake and doubled dietary fiber. It also increased protein, carbohydrates and potassium,” said the first author and co-chair of the study team Yanfang Wang, Ph.D., a nutritionist and professorial research fellow at Peking University Clinical Research Institute in Beijing, China.

According to the study, Chinese people account for more than one-fifth of the world’s population. Like in other parts of the world, the cardiovascular disease burden has increased rapidly in recent decades in China. Unhealthy changes in the Chinese diet have been a major factor driving the rise in cardiovascular disease.

According to a 2012 China National Nutrition Survey, consumption of healthy foods such as grains (34%), tubers and legumes (80%), and vegetables and fruits (15%) decreased significantly. In contrast, consumption of meat (162%), eggs (233%), and edible oil (132%) increased dramatically over the same time.

“Chinese people who live in the U.S. and elsewhere often maintain a traditional Chinese diet, which is very different from a Western diet,” said the chair of the study team Yangfeng Wu, M.D., Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and sciences in clinical research at Peking University Clinical Research Institute in Beijing, China. “Healthy Western diets such as DASH and Mediterranean have been developed and proven to help lower blood pressure, however, until now, there has not been a proven heart-healthy diet developed to fit into traditional Chinese cuisine.”

The study included 265 Chinese adults, average age of 56 years old, with systolic blood pressure equal to or greater than 130 mm Hg. Slightly more than half of the participants were women, and nearly half were taking at least one high blood pressure medication when the study began. Participants were recruited from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu. These are four major cities in China, each with a corresponding regional cuisine: Shangdong, Huaiyang, Cantonese and Szechuan, respectively.

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