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DASH to a Healthy Heart

Written by Tracey Dillon, Dietetic Intern - NDSU Extension Service

When you think of February, you might think of cupid, flowers, your Valentine or maybe just hearts. Did you know that February really is a month to be thinking about our hearts? February is American Heart Month. Be sure to explore efforts to reduce heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.


The primary cause of a heart attack and stroke is high blood pressure or hypertension. As you may know, high blood pressure and hypertension mean the same thing. Even if you do not have hypertension, you may know someone who does. In North Dakota approximately 29 percent (157,000 people) of the total adult population have hypertension.


What do you already know about hypertension? Answer these questions and see what you can learn.


1. Good habits to control your blood pressure or hypertension are_____.

  • A. Trying an online weight loss diet for four weeks.
  • B. Continue smoking because that doesn’t affect blood pressure.
  • C. Not needed if there is no known family history of heart attacks or strokes.
  • D. Talk honestly with your healthcare provider, learn about the DASH Diet and participate in regular physical activity.


2. When you’re at home setting the dinner table and cooking, what items could you leave behind to reduce your sodium intake?

  • A. Table salt
  • B. Ketchup
  • C. Ready-made frozen entrees
  • D. All of the above


The answers are:


1. D. Talk honestly with your healthcare provider, learn about the DASH Diet and participate in regular physical activity. You always should be truthful when discussing your health with your healthcare providers, even if you haven’t been as successful as you might like.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet has become very well-known and very successful for heart health. It includes a lower-sodium recommendation than a “normal diet” and you can enjoy an abundance of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains.

  • For more information on the DASH Diet.... see the online handout, “DASH to This Diet” (

Participating in physical activity can aid in hypertension control. Simple steps such as taking your dog for a walk, ice skating, or shoveling the driveway can have a positive effect on your health.

2. D. All of the above are options. Next time you set the dinner table, leave the excess condiments in the fridge and the table salt in the cabinet. Sodium or salt can be hidden in many processed foods such as ready-made frozen entrees. You can be misled easily if the packages say “lean, smart, or balanced” but know they still can contain excessive sodium. Try preparing your own homemade meals to freeze. When you make the meal, you can control what and how much goes in it. This will be convenient for the days you would normally have a store bought, ready-made frozen entree. These little lifestyle changes can help decrease your daily salt intake.

Controlling hypertension can reduce your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Making small dietary and lifestyle changes gradually can help you control hypertension. For more information check out the handout (“Questions and Answers About Sodium”) included with this newsletter.

For a variety of modules and online learning tools, see and explore the heart information, which is featured on the front page during February. While there, sign up for the free monthly e-newsletter!


References and resources:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

School of Medicine & Health Sciences, Center for Rural Health:

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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