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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The DASH to Diet in Buenos Aires

In the US we think long and hard, and legislation winds its way through Congress at the speed of a snail.  Not so in other countries where they get things done without making a federal case about it.

Buenos Aires health authorities together with the local hotel and restaurant federation decided to tackle an increase in hypertension like your mother would. They simply removed salt shakers from tables. The measure is not draconian, but you have to taste your food first before salt will be doled out. At the moment there are no penalties for non-compliance.

A quarter of the population of Buenos Aires is diagnosed to have hypertension because that they ingest 8 grams more salt per day than the required amount.  It must be all those steaks they are dosing for flavor. They need to go back to their roots and opt for the chimichurri sauce instead. Or it could be the bread. The authorities have asked breadmakers to reduce the sodium content of the local bread by 40%.

The recent Buenos Aires efforts are modeled after the 1972 successful  North Karelia Project in Finland which completely changed the eating habits of a local  population. Even the national dish, the Karelian stew made  with buttered meats simmered in heavily salted water, was transformed into a more healthy reduced sodium stew.   According to Derek Yach, physician and director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s program on global health, and a WHO (World Health Organization) colleague of Dr. Puska who lead the project, “It was actually that discourse surrounding a proposed law that made the biggest difference, not the law.” 

So are we all talk and no action in the US? Studies for the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) were conducted between 1993 - 1997, in the same time frame as the North Karelia Project. Due to rising obesity and medical costs from chronic diseases like hypertension, perhaps the government is just getting around to telling us what they know. Michelle Obama is at the forefront of the conversation.

The Biggest Loser and ABC's Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition are unknowingly modeled on Dr. Puska's 13 season TV program that counseled people to give up unhealthy habits. These shows should take the hint  and concentrate on introducing healthy eating behaviors instead of the graphic, grunting "no pain, no gain" approach. Their contestants are not losing weight because they exercise.

So dash to the DASH diet website and get on their program. What are you waiting for?


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