What you eat has a big effect on whether or not you will develop high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure (a blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg) affects more than 65 million, or 1 out of every 3 American adults! Hypertension is dangerous because it makes your heart work overtime, hardens the walls of your arteries, and can cause the brain to hemorrhage or the kidneys to stop functioning. If it’s not kept in check, high blood pressure can lead to heart and kidney disease, stroke, and blindness.
The good news is research shows that high blood pressure can be prevented– and lowered– by following these steps:
- Follow a healthy eating plan, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), which includes foods lower in sodium
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Be moderately physically active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
The DASH eating plan is rich in fruits, veggies, fat-free or low-fat milk products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. It also contains less salt, sweets, added sugars, fats, and red meats than the typical American diet. The eating plan is low in saturated fat (< 7 % of total calories), trans fat (< 1 % of total calories), and cholesterol ≤ 300 mg) daily. The DASH diet is rich in nutrients that are associated with lowering blood pressure– mainly potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber.
This heart-healthy eating plan doesn’t require any special foods and has no hard-to-follow recipes. It simply calls for a certain number of daily servings from different food groups. The number of servings depends on the number of calories you’re allowed each day. The calorie level depends on your age, gender, and how active you are. Your RD at CSL Nutritional Services can help you determine your daily needs.
Choose and prepare foods with less salt, and don’t bring the saltshaker to the table! Be adventurous– try herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, wine, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table. Fresh is best, but unfortunately restaurants are not on board yet when it comes to using nutritious herbs and spices to season in place of salt and butter.
Set a couple of new eating goals weekly to transition into the DASH plan. You will need to work on your eating habits and daily routine to help set yourself up to be successful. For example, add a serving of green, orange, or other colorful vegetables at lunch one day and dinner the next. Use fruit and dry roasted, salt-free nuts for a snack in place of chips or candy. Behavioral changes can also have large health benefits. Consider:
- Walking after dinner rather than going straight to the couch and T.V.
- Get out of the habit of skipping meals, which typically results in overeating due to being extremely hungry.
- Take the stairs and walk whenever possible.
Other tips include:
- Increasing your use of fat-free and low-fat milk products to two – three servings a day.
- Limiting lean meats to 16 ounces a week–increase fish to 4 ounces twice a week.
- Including two or more vegetarian-style, or meatless, meals each week.
For more information on DASH and to check out your daily calorie needs, please visit: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/dash_brief.pdf