High Blood Pressure, Nutrition and You

If you have high blood pressure, you are not alone.  The latest statistics about high blood pressure cases in the United States are staggering!  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 68 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure.  No one is immune; both men and women can have high blood pressure.  Although it is more likely to hit in middle age, you can develop high blood pressure at any age.  All people, regardless of race or ethnicity, are at risk.  Sadly, 1 in 5 people with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it.  High blood pressure has been called “The Silent Killer” for years.  Often, you don’t feel anything when your blood pressure is high.  This is unfortunate, since high blood pressure is implicated in the majority of cases of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the artery walls.  The top number, or  “systolic”, is when the heart is at work pumping out blood to the body.  The bottom number, or “diastolic”, is when the heart is at rest.  When blood pressure is high, you can have one or both numbers above normal.  Thanks to scientific advancement in the treatment of blood pressure, we now have different levels of blood pressure.   The CDC classifies blood pressure this way:

Blood Pressure Levels
Normal systolic: < 120 mmHgdiastolic: < 80mmHg
At risk (prehypertension) systolic: 120–139 mmHgdiastolic: 80–89 mmHg
High systolic:  140 mmHg or higherdiastolic: 90 mmHg or higher

If you do get diagnosed with high blood pressure, take comfort in the fact there is a lot you can do to help yourself. What it comes down to is a combination of taking medications and making lifestyle changes such as losing weight, maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking, following the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) eating plan and limiting sodium.
The DASH plan is a lifestyle, not a diet, which means that 85-95 percent of the time, you make your best food choices.  This allows for some “wiggle room”, to have an occasional treat.  Specifically, the DASH plan is broken down into food groups with suggested servings per day.  DASH means that you load your plate with vegetables and fruit and also have some whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and heart healthy fats.  A dietitian can individualize the plan specifically for you.
In addition to the DASH plan, it is suggested that you cut back on sodium.  A low sodium diet means eating 1500 milligrams (mg.) of sodium per day. The average American eats 3000- 10,000 mg. of sodium a day.   Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride.  1 tsp. of salt has 2,300 mg. of sodium.
Sodium is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in all foods. Sodium in foods can increase significantly when you use salt to prepare/cook.  Salt is also found in a shaker on the dinner table, allowing individuals to further add to the sodium load with each shake.  Finally, sodium can be greatly increased by buying processed foods.  These convenience foods need additives and preservatives (often with sodium) in order to make it to your dinner table.  Foods do not need to taste salty to have a high sodium content.
Ways to lower the sodium you eat –

  • Cut salt in half or more in recipes
  • Throw out the salt shaker
  • Use herbs & seasonings (that do not have “salt” in the name)
  • Aim for fresh or frozen produce, not canned
  • If buying canned, get “no salt added” or “low sodium”
  • Aim for low sodium convenience foods such as low sodium cheese, deli, crackers and broth
  • Look for plain frozen vegetables without sauces (add your own)
  • Make your own meals, gravies, soups, sauces, etc.
  • Shop the perimeter of the store for less processed food, not in the aisles
  • Read labels for sodium

A recent discovery is the role that naturally existing nitrates have in lowering blood pressure.   Nitrates exist in soil, and certain vegetable plants absorb large quantities of it.  To reap the benefits of lowering your blood pressure, try to make sure these veggies wind up on the menu more often than not:

Best Sources:  Celery, Cress, Chervil, Lettuce, Red Beetroot, Spinach, Arugula
Also Good:  Celeriac, Chinese cabbage, Endive, Fennel, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Parsley

High Blood Pressure is a serious condition.  Make sure your healthcare provider checks your blood pressure regularly.   This is vital since you now know that you can have high blood pressure and not be aware of it.  Make every bite count in your battle to protect your heart by filling your plate with delicious, protective foods.

Jennifer Giffune, R.D., L.D.N. is a freelance author and professional speaker.  She currently is providing nutrition counseling services for Hampden County Physician Associates at their offices in Westfield, Southwick, Feeding Hills and West Springfield.  If you would like to schedule a counseling session with Jennifer, please call (413) 786-1500. 

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