Six ounces of yogurt every three days may protect against high blood pressure

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(CBS News) A new study finds yogurt may be a key component in a heart-healthy diet.

In research presented at a Sept. 19 medical conference in Washington, D.C., researchers found that long-term yogurt eaters were less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who didn't eat yogurt.

The study tracked more than 2,000 volunteers for 15 years, giving them questionnaires about their dietary habits at three intervals during the study.

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Study participants were 31 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure if at least 2 percent of their daily calories came from yogurt - that's about the equivalent of eating a six-ounce cup of low-fat yogurt every three days.

The researchers also found people who ate yogurt had a lower systolic blood pressure than those who didn't. Systolic blood pressure refers to the "top number" in a blood pressure reading, that reflects the force of blood against the arteries' walls while the heart is beating.

If left uncontrolled, high systolic pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure, kidney damage or blindness, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

The research was presented at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research 2012 Scientific Sessions.

Yogurt may benefit heart health because its potassium content may help flush blood-pressure raising sodium out of the body. Calcium may also help keep blood vessels healthy.

"Yogurt is a good source of calcium, and many studies have shown that calcium can help keep blood pressure levels under control," Despina Hyde, a registered dietitian at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City who was not involved in the research, told WebMD. Hyde advised people should stay away from full-fat yogurt because it contains more saturated fat, which could raise LDL (bad) cholesterol.

"I would encourage my patients to choose fat-free or low-fat yogurt and to watch the amount of added sugars that are in the yogurt to keep the calories down," Rachel Johnson, chair of the AHA's nutrition committee, told MedPage Today.

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