May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. Do you know what your blood pressure level is? If you don’t, you should. The test is quick and painless, but the results are very important. At your next visit to the doctor, have it checked and if necessary, get it treated.
High blood pressure is defined by pressures higher than 140/90 mmHg (milligrams of mercury). If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure is defined as 130/80 or higher. According to the NHLBI (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute) high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects more than 67 million American adults. That equates to 1 in 3 people walking around with this condition and unfortunately, less than half of them have their condition under control. About 20 million people have high blood pressure but are not aware of it.
Oftentimes this disease has little, if any, warning signs or symptoms and if left uncontrolled, can lead to heart disease and heart failure, kidney failure, stroke and blindness.
Fortunately, high blood pressure is preventable and controllable. Follow a healthy eating plan. Maintain a healthy weight. Do moderate physical activity at least 30 minutes most days of the week. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you smoke, consider what you need to help you stop. Do what you can to manage the stress in your life. If you are on medication to help you control your high blood pressure, take it as directed by your doctor.
One eating plan that has been studied with good outcome is the DASH eating plan. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The plan is rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts.
It also recommends consuming less salt and sodium containing foods, sweets, added sugars and sugary beverages, fats and red meats than the typical American diet contains. This heart healthy way of eating is lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and abundant in the nutrients that have been associated with lowering blood pressure, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber. Eating in this manner may also help you to lose weight, which in turn helps lower blood pressure. There may be other health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and cancer risk as well.
Results from the DASH study showed that participants had even more significant reductions in blood pressure when they decreased their sodium intake even more than the first recommended level of intake, which is 2300 mg a day, to 1500 mg a day. The recommended first level of sodium intake, 2300 mg, is roughly equal to one teaspoon. The average American eats about twice that much.
The love for salty foods can be an acquired one and it may take a little getting used to while decreasing sodium in your diet. If you must use salt, use light salt in place of regular salt and you decrease the sodium by half. Use lots of spices, herbs and citrus instead of salt when preparing foods. After a few weeks, you’ll most likely find that you don’t miss the salt one bit.
So if you have high blood pressure or are on the borderline, take the DASH! For information, including a full guide for eating the DASH way, visit the NHLBI’s website at www.nhlbi.nih.gov or contact your physician or a local registered dietitian.
Sherry Munoz is a registered dietitian at DaVita Dialysis Centers and Banner Churchill Community Hospital. Your nutrition questions are welcome — send questions to Sherry Munoz, R.D., C.D.E. in care of this newspaper.