Connection Between Diet and Blood Pressure
Bad eating habits contribute significantly to unhealthily high blood pressure levels, even in middle age, when blood pressure levels typically rise as part of the ageing process. Whether or not medication is prescribed, the need to make dietary improvements (eg. follow a healthy low-fat diet) is frequently at the top of a doctor’s list of recommendations to reduce or prevent the onset of hypertension. Before outlining the best type of diet for hypertension, let’s take a brief look at the causes, symptoms and health consequences of raised blood pressure.
Prevalence and Health Effects of Hypertension
In developed countries, an estimated 15-30 percent of all adults suffer from persistent high blood pressure (also called hypertension). High blood pressure puts a strain on the heart and arteries, causing damage to delicate tissues.
It is a significant predictor for cardiovascular disease as well as disorders of the kidneys and eyes. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk of atherosclerosis (clogging/hardening of the arteries), myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke.
Causes and Symptoms of Hypertension
Blood pressure varies naturally with physical activity. It rises during exercise or stress, and falls when we are resting or relaxed. In addition, blood pressure rises with age and weight – obesity being a common contributory factor. A person may also be genetically predisposed to hypertensive blood pressure levels. Hypertension does not usually cause noticeable symptoms but it does cause invisible damage to arteries and organs. By the time these adverse effects become evident, irreversible damage has occurred, perhaps even culminating in a fatal heart attack. This is why hypertension is sometimes called the “silent killer”.
Normal Blood Pressure Levels vs. Prehypertensive and Hypertensive
A healthy blood pressure level for a young adult at rest, is 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic) or less. Blood pressure levels greater than 120/80 and below 140/90 are considered prehypertensive, while levels above 140/90 are considered hypertensive. According to guidelines from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institutes (2003), both prehypertensive and hypertensive subjects should make diet, exercise and lifestyle changes to reduce or prevent the onset of hypertension and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Weight Affects Blood Pressure
Maintaining a healthy weight helps blood pressure. Significant overweight is closely associated with hypertensive blood pressure levels. It is estimated that people with obesity double their risk of developing the disorder. In addition, roughly 7 out of 10 obese adults suffer from high blood pressure. The good news is that losing even 10 pounds can produce noticeable improvements. For a healthy eating plan to lower blood pressure and reduce weight.
Dietary Advice For Hypertension
If you suffer from elevated blood pressure but are not overweight, here are some practical suggestions to improve your eating habits and reduce your blood pressure.
Choose A Healthy Balanced Diet
In a nutshell, the ideal eating plan to reduce blood pressure is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods, while low in saturated and trans-fats. It should also be low in cholesterol, high in fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and moderately high in protein. The American Heart Association and U.S. government recommend the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet as a good diet guide to reduce blood pressure.
Reduce Your Intake of Sodium (Salt)
Eating too much salt or sodium-rich foods leads to a greater uptake of fluid and causes a greater volume of blood to enter the confines of the circulatory system. It also places extra strain on the arterioles (blood vessels that dilate/constrict to regulate blood pressure and blood flow). Both these effects lead to higher blood pressure. The RDA for sodium for most people is 2,400 mg.
How To Reduce Sodium Intake
As a general rule, eat less pre-cooked or processed food, and more fresh food. Sodium is found naturally in fresh foods like meats, nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, but in much lower quantities than in processed foods (eg. packet, bottled or canned food).
High Sodium Foods
These foods typically have a high sodium content. In order not to exceed the RDA, either avoid them altogether, or choose low-sodium varieties.
- Sauces: Soy sauce, steak sauce, salad dressing, baking powder, baking soda, barbecue sauce, catsup, garlic salt, mustard, onion salt, seasoned salts like lemon pepper, bouillon cubes, meat tenderizer, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Meats: Hogmaws, ribs, and chitterlings, smoked or cured meats (containing sodium-nitrite) such as bacon, bologna, hot dogs, ham, corned beef, luncheon meats, and sausage.
- Soup: Regular canned soups, instant soups.
- Salted Snacks: Tortilla chips, corn chips, peanuts, pretzels, pork rinds.
- Pickled Food: Herring, pickles, relish, olives, or sauerkraut.
- Dairy: Most cheese spreads and cheeses.
- Cereals: Regular ready to eat cold cereals, instant hot cereals.
- Ready-to-Eat: Quick cook rice, instant noodles, boxed mixes like rice, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and some frozen dinners, pot pies and pizza.
- Fats: Butter, fatback, and salt pork.
- Drinks: saccharin-flavored soda, club soda.
Check Food Labels
- Choose foods labeled low-sodium, very low sodium, or salt-free. (Note: If you have been prescribed hypertension medication like diuretics for high blood pressure, ask your’s doctor advice before using salt substitutes.)
- Check food labels for words that indicate a high sodium content, including: monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium benzoate, sodium hydroxide, sodium nitrite, sodium proprionate, disodium phosphate, and sodium sulfate.
Lower Sodium Eating Habits
- Do not add salt when cooking or preparing meals. Cook with more herbs and spices.
- Do not have salt on the table while eating.
- If you eat cured/smoked meats, switch to fresh cold meats.
- If you eat ready-to-serve breakfast cereal, choose low-sodium varieties.
- If you eat tuna, salmon, sardines, or mackerel canned in water, rinse before eating.
- If you eat soup, switch to low-sodium or fresh varieties.
- If you cook with whole milk or fat, switch to 1 percent or skimmed buttermilk.
- If you cook with salt, switch to chili, ginger and lemon juice for flavoring.