09/19/2012 03:10 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2012

Blood Pressure Diet Works, But Study Shows Adherence Lags Among Blacks

While a team of researchers at Georgia Health Sciences University explored the connection between high blood pressure and stress last week, a team of doctors at Duke University says they've pinpointed another factor that puts African Americans at greater risk.

Examining a group of 144 sedentary, overweight, and obese adults with high blood pressure, the researchers found that African Americans were less likely to adopt the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet compared to their white counterparts.

According to previous research, the DASH diet, which promotes consumption of more fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grain, and less meats and sweets, has proven to be a highly effective approach to treating hypertension. But African Americans may not be reaping its full benefits, experts say.

“After DASH dietary counseling, African Americans increased their consumption of DASH foods, but continued to lag behind whites in overall adherence to the DASH eating plan, consuming considerably more meat, sweets, and fat, and less fruit,” lead investigator James A. Blumenthal, PhD, Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center said in a release.

In addition to adherence, researchers also evaluated potential predictors of why participants may or may not comply, including depression, anxiety, level of support from family and friends, and their beliefs about health and exercise. But some say African American culinary traditions are to blame.

"I know grandma made that delicious Sunday dinner with love," writes ABC News' Dr. Khaalisha Ajala, in an analysis of the Duke University study. "But with its conventional ingredients, you will have a harder time getting your blood pressure under control."

Blumenthal agrees, noting that "strong cultural influences on food preferences, food preparation, and perceptions about eating practices might make it more challenging for African Americans to adhere to the DASH diet.”

With rates of hypertension-induced heart disease soaring among African-American adults and too few likely to have their condition under control, experts believe that greater cultural sensitivity (ie. modifying traditional recipes to meet current nutritional guidelines rather than recommending that they be eliminated altogether) is worth a shot.

Watch as co-author and nutritionist Pao-Hwa Lin discusses the implications of the DASH study.



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