High blood pressure, is otherwise called hypertension, is regularly called the “silent epidemic.” This is because so many individuals have it and don’t even know it. It seldom gives any warning signs or symptoms, so it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying special attention to it. As indicated by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), close to half of the grown-ups in the US have hypertension and most don’t have it under control. In 2019, this resulted in over half a million deaths. Hypertension can be extremely dangerous because it increases your risk for a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness. It is so important to have regular blood pressure screenings and incorporate a healthy diet and lifestyle. Today, I will be discussing how to take care of your blood pressure.
It’s never too late to start enjoying a more “heart-healthy” diet since the foods you eat can affect so many aspects of your health. There is one diet that has been around for a while and has in fact been designed to help you to manage high blood pressure. This diet is known as the DASH diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The research says this diet works.
[Disclaimer: If you are seeing a doctor for your high blood pressure, you should follow his advice and continue your medication. Make sure you go for routine monitoring or testing as required by your doctor.]
What is healthy blood pressure?
Blood pressure is how much pressure your heart needs to use to keep blood moving through your vessels. It’s like water flowing through a flexible tube versus flowing through a stiff, hard, narrow pipe. Imagine the amount of pressure you would need to get the water through the hose compared to the pipe. That’s how blood pressure works. The more force that is needed, the more pressure it puts on your vessels, and the more damage it can do to the pump and the vessels. This is particularly true when high blood pressure continues over many years not being treated.
A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg. The first number (120 mm Hg) is the systolic pressure in your vessels as your heart beats. The second number (80 mm Hg) is the diastolic pressure in your vessels between beats. If your blood pressure is slightly higher than these numbers, that’s considered “elevated.” However, if your blood pressure gets above 130/80 mm Hg, you may be diagnosed with hypertension.
High blood pressure usually develops over many years. It can happen as a result of diabetes or obesity, or not getting enough physical activity. It can also sometimes happen during pregnancy.
Some good news is that there are ways you can manage high blood pressure and lower your risk for heart disease (angina, heart attack, heart failure), stroke, kidney disease, and loss of vision. Follow the tips below to achieve healthy blood pressure.
Tip #1: Healthy lifestyle for healthy blood pressure
There are a number of healthy lifestyle habits that can lower your risk for high blood pressure. The first is to not smoke since smoking is associated with so many issues including heart issues.
Another lifestyle habit for healthy blood pressure and overall health is to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week. You can do with as little as 30 minutes per day for 5 days a week.
You also want to manage stress in a positive way to help maintain healthy blood pressure.
Tip #2: Sodium and healthy blood pressure
Your blood pressure is definitely impacted by your nutrition. There are a number of nutrients that can increase or decrease your blood pressure, depending on how much you consume. The minerals potassium, magnesium, and calcium, along with fiber and protein are associated with lower blood pressure. However, the most famous nutrient that increases blood pressure is sodium.
According to the American Heart Association, the more sodium you consume in general, the higher your blood pressure. Sodium is one part of the salt compound, sodium chloride. One of the biggest sources of sodium in the diet is not from your kitchen salt shaker, but the sodium hidden in processed and packaged foods.
There’s a recent study where 20,995 participants with a history of stroke or high blood pressure were evaluated to see if using a lower-sodium salt substitute would reduce their risk of stroke, heart incidents, and death. Half of the participants continued to use regular salt over several years, while the other half of them agreed to use the salt substitute (75% sodium chloride and 25% potassium chloride). After almost five years, the participants who consumed the lower-sodium salt had fewer strokes, heart incidents, and deaths. Their risks were reduced by 12-14% which is significant when there are millions of people at high risk of hypertension.
Tip #3: The DASH diet for healthy blood pressure
A dietary pattern and food recommendations have been put together specifically for hypertension. This is called the DASH diet. It has been deemed one of the best overall diets by U.S. News and is ranked among the top diets in the categories of heart-healthy, healthy eating, diabetes, easy-to-follow, and overall diets. Harvard Health also rated the DASH diet and says, “research supports the use of the DASH diet as a healthy eating pattern that may help to lower blood pressure, and prevent or reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, kidney disease, and gout.” Some studies show that the blood pressure-lowering effect of the DASH diet can be similar to that of people taking medication for the early stages of hypertension.
The DASH diet is full of heart-healthy foods with blood-pressure-lowering nutrients. The recommendations for a 2,000 calorie per day intake include:
- whole grains (6-8 servings/day)
- fruits (4-5 servings/day)
- vegetables (4-5 servings/day)
- low-fat dairy (2-3 servings/day)
- meat, poultry, or fish (no more than two 3 oz servings/day)
- fats and oils (2-3 servings/day)
- nuts, seeds, or beans (4-5 servings/week)
- sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages (no more than 5 servings/week)
Very few foods and nutrients such as sodium, saturated and trans fats, red meat, and sweets (including sugar-sweetened beverages) are limited on the DASH diet.
As mentioned, the health benefits of eating a DASH diet are vast and include many of the most common diseases impacting adults.
Something to consider, when transitioning to a higher-fiber diet with an increase of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, you want to do it slowly in order to decrease the risk of experiencing uncomfortable gas and bloating. You can accomplish this by increasing the amount of plant-based foods by one or two per week until you reach the recommended amounts.
To get more about the DASH diet and heart health, click here to get your guide.
If you have high blood pressure or you simply want to start a healthier diet to reduce your risk for other diseases, then the DASH diet may be for you. The DASH diet is rich in foods that are highly nutritious and can help you enjoy a longer life free of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, diabetes, and gout.
The DASH diet is one of the easiest diets to follow and includes simple nutritional improvements like enjoying more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can get started—or continue—on your way to healthy blood pressure, consult a registered dietitian who can help.
Are you worried about high blood pressure? Are you interested in how to best implement dietary and lifestyle habits to reduce your risk of heart issues and other diseases? Do you want help creating a plan so that you can live your longest, healthiest life? Book an appointment with me today to see if my services can help you.
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