DASH-ing to Better Health At SOMOS

[avatar user=”doller” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”https://somoscc.wpengine.com/who-we-are/diego-a-ponieman”]by Denisse Oller[/avatar]

When I started my DASH Diet challenge two years ago, I had no idea of the transformation that I would experience physically and emotionally, nor of the positive ripple effect of my personal experience.

It all began with an innocuous remark – or so I thought.

I shared with a dear colleague that my primary physician had diagnosed me with high blood pressure (160/110) during my annual exam and prescribed medication. My physician also ordered me to reduce my salt intake and lose weight. I said, “I am not really too concerned about these numbers. Besides, I would never eat without salt. I mean, I love salt. I am addicted to it.”  My colleague, Dr. Richard Bernstein, looked at me with great concern before responding, “This is extremely serious. You are at risk of complications from hypertension. You should go on the DASH diet now.”

And so, the journey began. I soon found out that the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet emphasizes eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while limiting salt and sugar. Furthermore, study after study has shown that it can also reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, heart failure, and diabetes, as well as help you lose weight. Last year it was rated Best Overall Diet in U.S. News & World Report’s annual diet ranking – the eighth consecutive year it has won the top spot. All great news, but how to give up salt?

Just as some people have a sweet tooth and some don’t, some crave salty taste more than others. I am one of them. I also love cooking, so quitting salt cold turkey was not going to work. But, I was up to the challenge. I read all about salt substitutes, stocked up on Mrs. Dash seasonings, and experimented with dry and fresh herbs, spices, vinegars, mustards, and citrus marinades, all while slowly reducing my salt intake.  At the beginning, it was a disaster. I preferred not to eat. Everything tasted like cardboard.

Salt is an acquired taste, and most of us acquire it as children. I also learned that as adults, after years of eating overly salted foods, changing our tastes and eating habits takes great effort. Experts say it takes about 8 to 12 weeks.

Eventually, hunger got the best of me. After two weeks of cooking with less salt, it was slightly less difficult to eat – or maybe I had just resigned to my new way of life. Who knows? But, I was beginning to taste the real flavor of foods. I also felt less bloated and started to lose weight, which motivated me to keep going. I even started walking more and at a brisker pace.

It helped that my colleagues encouraged me. SOMOS  had adopted the DASH diet as its nutrition plan, and one of my first assignments was to put together a three-session Dash diet workshop for our Community Health Workers (CHWs). My co-workers and I tailored the program to acknowledge the dietary and cultural preferences of our Chinese and Latino communities, as well as the budgetary constraints of Medicaid beneficiaries, to support our Cardiovascular, Diabetes, Asthma and Chronic Disease projects. Teamwork and the guidance of Dr. Bernstein and SOMOS Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Diego Ponieman, all the material came together seamlessly.

Through hands-on workshops at community-based organizations, schools, and other partners, SOMOS is bringing DASH to New York City’s neediest communities by helping participants understand how proper nutrition can prevent chronic disease, urging them to make healthier food choices in the kitchen, at the table. We want to encourage them to exercise, too.

Here at SOMOS, we’re also stepping up our wellness game with healthier catering, nutritional education, and on-site fitness programs.

There is a growing revolution in progress, and it all started with a chance exchange and advice that I took to heart, and to the kitchen. In a few months, I have lost almost 10 pounds, I am off salt, and I am exercising a minimum of 30 minutes a day. I’ve never felt healthier, more motivated, and better about myself.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, my blood pressure numbers are down to 120/80 and I am no longer taking medication. Are you up to the challenge?