I first became aware of Atlanta registered dietitian nutritionist Nichole Dandrea-Russert earlier this year, when I wrote about her recent book — “The Fiber Effect: Stop Counting Calories and Start Counting Fiber for Better Health” (Hatherleigh Press, $15) — which makes the case that fiber can help regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and create a healthy gut.
As an omnivore who tries to include more fruits and vegetables and less animal fat in my diet, what I really liked about Dandrea-Russert’s plant-based approach is that she emphasizes what to eat rather than what not to eat. Or as she puts it, “You’re adding things that are really good for you, and make you feel good.”
So far, I don’t have problems with blood sugar or cholesterol. But, like many members of my family, I do have high blood pressure. Though medication, exercise, and a diet that restricts sodium have mostly kept it in check, I wondered if Dandrea-Russert might have some ideas about adding foods that help regulate blood pressure.
As it turns out, she did. And not only that, she came up with some recipes that feature whole grains, which are packed with fiber and phytonutrients that lower blood pressure, along with spices, such as cumin and turmeric, that are not only anti-inflammatory, but add loads of flavor and color.
“I’m such a proponent of whole grains, if you can tolerate them, but there are other options, like quinoa, that are gluten-free,” Dandrea-Russert said. “There’s such a beautiful array of grains to choose from, and they all come with their own set of fibers and phytonutrients.
“I usually recommend that people just try a variety and have fun with them. For balance, vegetables should be half the plate, and then a whole-grain portion, and a protein portion. Including them all together is essential.”
Like many nutritionists, Dandrea-Russert also loves blueberries, because they’re delicious, and they contain plant pigments with compounds called anthocyanins.
“They’ve been shown to help with a variety of things,” she said. “They lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels, they act as antioxidants, and they act as probiotics for gut bacteria. But it’s not just blueberries, it’s strawberries, blackberries, cherries, and even red onions and red cabbage. The deeper the hue, the more anthocyanins you’re going to get.”
When it comes to sweeteners for making desserts like whole-grain cobblers, Dandrea-Russert prefers maple syrup or date paste.
“I like to use maple syrup because it’s one of the least processed sugars, and it contains a lot of antioxidants, including several different phytonutrients,” she said. “And you don’t need a lot, so just a little bit can go a long way. Date paste is good because it’s a whole food source and it has lots of fiber and potassium.”
Bottom line, when it comes to lowering blood pressure, it is not just all about salt. Dandrea-Russert believes that fiber, healthy bacteria, and essential minerals, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, are the key.
“Prebiotic fiber is the fiber that the healthy bacteria in our gut need to grow and thrive,” she explained. “Prebiotics and probiotics go hand-in-hand. But getting enough fiber is number one. Eating a variety of plant-based foods leads to less inflammation, and less inflammation leads to better control of blood pressure.”
These recipes with notes from registered dietitian nutritionist Nichole Dandrea-Russert feature delicious plant-based dishes that help lower blood pressure.
Cauliflower Chickpea Curry Bites with Mint Chutney
Not a veggie lover? One way to sneak them in is through restaurant-style crispy-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside bites. These bites are packed with fiber and phytonutrients that have been shown to lower blood pressure. Even the spices that make up the curry powder, namely cumin and turmeric, can reduce blood pressure with their anti-inflammatory effects. Watching sodium intake? Maintain the flavor, but lower the sodium content by reducing the salt in the bites and omitting the salt from the chutney.
Grains, Greens and Beets Bowl with Creamy Citrus Dressing
Grain bowls are a fun, delicious and easy way to eat a variety of plant-based foods that can lower blood pressure and optimize health. They’re also versatile. You can easily substitute your favorite whole grain for the quinoa or replace the veggies in this bowl with veggies you have on hand. Whole grains in general have been shown to reduce blood pressure, and most vegetables, from carrots to leafy greens to beets, have anti-inflammatory properties that help to lower blood pressure. Make your grains and dressing ahead of time and store them in the fridge for 1-2 days before making this dish to save on time.
Deep South Blueberry Cobbler
You’d never know that this delicious Deep South Blueberry Cobbler is good for you! It has the perfect blend of carbohydrate (blueberries and bananas), protein (hemp seeds and almond meal), fat (chia and hemp seeds), and fiber (oats, chia, blueberries and banana). So, while it’s meant to be a slightly sweet treat, it can easily substitute as a sustainable and satisfying morning breakfast or midafternoon snack. There are several ways this cobbler can lower blood pressure — from the anthocyanins in the blueberries, the fiber in the oats, omega-3s in the chia seeds, and phytonutrients in the lemon. Enjoy this knowing you’re treating your body well.
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