The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet that includes three servings of lowfat dairy foods and 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables, which was shown to help lower blood pressure, may now have another life-saving benefit: protection against heart disease, the country's leading cause of death.

Published in the American Heart Association's Circulation, this study placed 118 participants on one of three randomly assigned diets used in the original DASH hypertension trial: a control diet (or the typical American diet), a diet that emphasized fruits and vegetables, and the DASH combination diet that was low in fat and rich in lowfat dairy products, fruits and vegetables. After following the assigned diets for eight weeks, those on the DASH combination diet saw the greatest reduction in artery-damaging homocysteine compared to the other subjects.

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is a byproduct of protein metabolism. High levels of homocysteine have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Several recent studies have pointed to homocysteine as an independent risk factor for heart disease along with elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity.

"This study stresses the importance of choosing even more lowfat dairy foods, fruits and vegetables in your diet," said David A. McCarron, M.D., professor of medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University and one of the country's leading experts in hypertension. "If people make the choice to switch to this kind of diet, they could lower their risk of heart disease by 7 to 9 percent; and that's in addition to the benefits of reduced blood pressure, which the DASH authors have previously estimated lower heart attack risk by 15 percent and stroke risk by 27 percent."

The study's authors suggest that the increased folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 in the DASH diet may play a role because they work together to reduce the amount of homocysteine in the blood. They noted that while B6 and B12 likely contribute to the DASH diet's homocysteine-lowering effect, it was only the folate content of the diet that actually predicted the decrease in the amount of homocysteine in the blood.

"Interestingly, while fruits and vegetables are often associated with folate and lowering homocysteine levels, only when lowfat dairy foods were added to the fruits and vegetables, did the homocysteine levels decline," Dr. McCarron said. "Lowfat dairy foods provide a powerful nutrient package, and when eaten with fruits and vegetables throughout the day, can have dramatic results for your heart," said Dr. McCarron.

More than 59 million Americans have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in America, according to the American Heart Association.

"Most people aren't aware that following simple mealtime guidelines can reduce your risk of heart disease," said Jean Ragalie, R.D., vice president of nutrition communications for the National Dairy Council.

"Taking the right steps can be as easy as making a few lifestyle changes, including incorporating lowfat dairy foods into every meal and taking advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables." Jean offers the following mealtime tips to help people get on the right track.

  1. Get Naturally Sweet. Calm your morning sugar cravings by enjoying a bowl of cereal with lowfat milk topped with your favorite seasonal berries.

  2. Eat a Mid-morning Snack. Cut up pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables with plain yogurt for dipping.

  3. Avoid Lunchtime Laziness. Get in the habit of preparing a healthful lunch you can bring to work. A pita with grated carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers and sprouts topped with lowfat cheese is the perfect portable lunch.

  4. Prepare Mixed Meals. Serve up variety at meals with at least two different types of fruits and vegetables. Dessert is the ideal time to experiment with fresh fruit. Lowfat vanilla yogurt topped with sauteed apple slices is a crowd-pleasing DASH dessert.
For more information on the DASH eating plan, a free brochure is available called "Reduce Your Risk: The Diet/Blood Pressure Connection," which was reviewed by the American Heart Association. Call 1-800-WHY-MILK or visit the milk Web site at

Resources Available: To schedule and interview, E-mail,

David A. McCarron, M.D., professor of medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University Jean Ragalie, R.D., vice president of nutrition communications, National Dairy Council

Editor's Note: Fat free and 1% lowfat milk display the American Heart Association's heart-check certification mark. This symbol indicates that these varieties meet American Heart Association food criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol for healthy people over age 2.

The National Dairy Council was founded in 1915 and conducts nutrition education and nutrition research programs through national, state and regional Dairy Council organizations on behalf of America's dairy farmers.