Eat Your Way to Lower Blood Pressure
Of all the illnesses that make up cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack, stroke, angina pectoris, atherosclerosis, and arteriosclerosis - high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the most common. Recent studies show that almost one in three Americans have high blood pressure, yet because there are no signs or symptoms, nearly one third of these people are completely unaware of their health condition. Many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. Unfortunately it can ultimately result in such serious conditions as kidney disease, stroke, heart attack, and even death.
How Blood Pressure is MeasuredBlood is carried from the heart to all of your body's tissues and organs in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of those arteries. Each time the heart beats, (60-70 beats per minute at rest), it is pumping out blood into the arteries. Blood pressure is at its greatest when the heart contracts to push out the blood, this is called systolic pressure. While the heart is resting between beats the blood pressure lowers, this is called diastolic pressure. A measurement of blood pressure is always given as these two numbers. They are usually written with one above the other, with systolic being uppermost. For most of the waking hours blood pressure stays the same and if normal should be around 120/80 mm Hg.
High blood pressure means that an excessive force is exerted against the walls of the blood vessels. Hypertension would show a reading of 140/90 mm Hg or above. Two factors determine high blood pressure: constriction of your blood vessels, and an increased amount of blood relative to size of the vessel. Between 90-95% of people have what is known as 'essential hypertension', this means that the precise cause cannot be determined, though it may be due to genetics, diet, poor exercise or obesity.
Changing Your DietMaking changes in your diet can go a long way to reducing high blood pressure. Doctors used to simply recommend reducing salt intake to help lower blood pressure, but now we know much more about how to adapt our diets to decrease hypertension. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), is low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and high in magnesium, potassium, calcium and fibre. It includes about 3000 mg of sodium a day. Studies have shown that following the DASH eating plan can dramatically reduce your blood pressure in just 14 days. Though following all the steps of the DASH diet lowers blood pressure the most, just increasing your daily fruit and vegetable intake can lower blood pressure a few points.
The DASH Diet
- Choose seven to eight servings of grains a day. Use whole-grain products most of the time - they have more fibre, vitamins and minerals than refined grains. Try whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain crackers, oatmeal and other whole-grain cereals.
- Enjoy four to five servings of fruit per day. Oranges, bananas and other fruits are great sources of magnesium, potassium and fibre.
- Increase your vegetable intake to four to five servings a day. Veggies like broccoli and sweet potatoes are also rich in magnesium, potassium and fibre.
- Choose two to three servings a day of low-fat or non-fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese.
- Eat nuts, legumes (beans), and seeds four to five times a week. These are excellent sources of protein, as well as many minerals.
- Cut your meat, poultry and fish consumption down to two 3-ounce servings per day. This cuts down on saturated fat.
- Limit high-fat sweets, fats and oils and sodium.
- Make gradual changes in your eating habits.
- Center your meal around carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, beans, or vegetables.
- Treat meat as one part of the whole meal, instead of the focus.
- Use fruits or low fat, low-calorie foods such as sugar free gelatine for desserts and snacks.
- Limit alcohol. Over consumption contributes to weakening of the heart muscle and to hypertension.