One in 3 adults in the U.S. has HBP (also known as hypertension) and now increasing numbers of children and teens are being diagnosed with HBP as well. HBP can be very damaging to the arteries and organs of the body, and puts one at increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure among other issues (erectile dysfunction, vision loss, memory loss and accelerated bone loss).
“Hypertensive people are four times more likely to die from a stroke and three times more likely to die from heart disease than people with normal pressure,” says CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden. For every 20/10 mm Hg increase in blood pressure (beginning at 115/75 mm Hg), your risk of cardiovascular disease doubles. High blood pressure is often referred to as "the silent killer" because it is often times asymptomatic.
How can I prevent HBP?
1. Drink less (alcohol, that is)
If you drink alcohol, limit to less than 1 drink/day for women and 1-2 drinks/day for men (1 drink is considered 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or 1.5 oz 80-proof whiskey). Alcohol intake greater than this is associated with increased blood pressure.
2. Be active daily – at least walk (or make activity/exercise a daily habit – at least walk)
Regular aerobic exercise like brisk walking (30-45 minutes most days of the week) has been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure by 4-9 mm Hg. Try to be active for at least 30-60 minutes daily. Exercise also aids weight maintenance/loss and stress management, both important factors in preventing HBP.
3. Watch your salt intake
Some sodium is necessary for our body to function and survive but daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,000 mg – ideally, no more than 1,500 mg/day. (Frame of reference: 1 teaspoon of salt = 2300 mg sodium).
Sodium attracts water and promotes fluid retention, thereby increasing blood volume. Increased blood volume makes your heart have to work harder to pump blood through the blood vessels resulting in increased pressure in your arteries. Some individuals are more salt-sensitive than others and therefore may experience a greater response to changes in sodium intake.
How to reduce sodium? (see extra page below) Replace packaged foods with whole foods. Be label-conscious (see below…and look for less than 300 mg sodium on labels). Cook more, eat out less. Utilize herbs, salt-free seasonings, lemon/lime juice when cooking.
How to interpret sodium labels:
Less than 5 mg sodium
Very Low Sodium
35 mg sodium or less
140 mg sodium or less
At least 25% less sodium than regular food
50% less sodium
Unsalted, Without Added Salt, No Salt Added
No salt added during processing (but does not mean sodium is not added after processing)
50% less added sodium than normally added (product must state “not a low sodium food”)
4. Eat more vitamin and mineral-rich fruits and veggies
Studies have shown that it is not just sodium reduction that helps regulate blood pressure, but also adequate intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium. High potassium intakes have been demonstrated to have a preventative and corrective effect on hypertension, whereas low potassium intakes have been associated with higher blood pressure. However, research does not support routine supplementation of these minerals to regulate blood pressure – instead, the benefits are best derived from the combination of these minerals consumed from whole foods. Try to fit in extra (fresh or sodium-free frozen) fruits/vegetable servings (according to the DASH diet, 8-10 servings/day à 2-3 servings at each meal!)
Consider adopting a plant-based diet (such as DASH, vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean). Research has highlighted the DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), as a particularly effective means of controlling hypertension – even more so than just adding extra fruits/vegetables to a low-fat diet. The DASH diet limits sodium intake and encourages the consumption of foods rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium by promoting fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein (particularly plant-based protein) and nuts, while decreasing intake of saturated/trans fats and refined sugar. The whole foods recommended on these diet plans promote beneficial proportions of macronutrients and micronutrients to help reduce weight and blood pressure.
Adherence to the DASH eating plan has been demonstrated to be comparable to medication in terms of reducing blood pressure. Blood pressure changes are usually seen within 2 weeks.
Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables include: bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens (swiss chard, spinach, kale), Brussels sprouts, avocado, papaya, artichoke, dates, raisins, prunes, orange, broccoli, cantaloupe.
Dietary sources of calcium include: dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), sardines and salmon (canned with bones), calcium-fortified non-dairy milks (almond milk, rice milk, soy milk), calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified cereals, tofu, soybeans, almonds, dark leafy greens, broccoli, dried beans and peas, dried figs, hummus, oatmeal, oysters, whole-grain waffles.
Dietary sources of magnesium include: Pumpkin seeds, artichoke, avocado, beans, bran, halibut, tuna, beet greens, nuts, oatmeal, peanut butter, potato, brown rice, spinach, swiss chard, tofu, soy milk
For further information regarding the DASH dietary plan, click here (NOTE: The DASH diet is not recommended for individuals with end-stage renal disease).
5. Lose excess weight/Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight (see #’s 1-4!)
Excess body weight can increase blood pressure. Even modest weight loss has been shown to induce long-term reductions in blood pressure and can reduce medication needs and stress on the heart. A registered dietitian can recommend a gradual weight reduction plan tailored to your lifestyle.
Tips for how to reduce sodium intake
-Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned fruits and vegetables.
-Look for lower sodium versions of canned, frozen, and packaged items such as beans, soup, broth, frozen meals and snacks.
-Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of salty packaged snacks.
-Try adding ½ the amount of salt called for in recipes.
-Create your own salt-free seasonings using herbs and seasonings like oregano, basil, celery seed, curry powder, cayenne pepper, or paprika.
-Squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice on a dish before serving.
-Kosher salt and sea salt have the same amount of sodium as table salt.
-Search for labels that say: Sodium free, very low sodium, or low sodium.
-Look for less than 300 mg of sodium per serving.
-Be sure to check serving size and number of servings per container.
-Compare the amount of sodium in different brands.