December 19, 2007 | By: Katie Pratt

Kentuckians love sodium-laden fried chicken, burgoo and barbecue, but too much sodium in a person’s diet can lead to hypertension, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Janet Tietyen, University of Kentucky associate extension professor in food and nutrition sciences, said through the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan, Kentuckians can introduce more nutritious foods into their diet while enjoying their favorite dishes in moderation.

Recent results from the Nurses’ Health Study found middle-aged women, who participate in the diet, also have a lower risk for heart disease and stroke. The DASH approach encourages eating more fruits and vegetables, at least three daily dairy servings and limiting fried or high-fat foods. The UK Cooperative Extension Service uses this approach as the basis for many programs.

In a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky was the No. 2 state in the nation for the highest number of its population with heart disease. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the state. Since 2002, 29 percent of all deaths in Kentucky were related to heart disease. Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death for Kentuckians. About 6 percent of all deaths since 2002 can be attributed to a stroke.

People can decrease their chances of having heart disease or a stroke by controlling risk factors, which include hypertension and high cholesterol. Other risk factors include diabetes, tobacco use, physical inactivity, poor nutrition and being overweight or obese.

DASH works to lower blood pressure by incorporating more fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy and lower quantities of sodium, red meats, processed foods and sweetened beverages into a person’s diet. Dieters can use DASH to reduce the amount of salt in their meals, which can lead to lower blood pressure and a decreased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Tietyen said DASH is a healthy alternative for people who are trying to lower their blood pressure, but are having trouble restricting their sodium intake. People often get frustrated when they’re told they “can’t” have something.

“The diet doesn’t focus on sodium restriction, the way some diets do,” Tietyen said. “It 
focuses on what people can do, such as eating smaller portions of meats, and eating more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.” 

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends gradually changing eating habits to fit those described in DASH. Before starting the eating plan, people are encouraged to review their eating habits and compare them to DASH dietary guidelines. Those who do not eat a lot of fruits and vegetables can start by adding an extra serving at each meal.

When accompanied with physical activity, this diet may also help people lose weight. Tietyen said losing weight can also help prevent heart problems.

More information about the diet and recipes are available through your county’s family and consumer sciences extension agent or online at


Janet Tietyen, 859-257-1812