Once you know how to read your blood pressure and find out it's too high, the next step is to take action to bring it down. If you can prevent or lower high blood pressure, then you immediately and dramatically improve your chances for living free of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. It's that simple and that important.
Quitting smoking and losing weight are the two best and surest ways to reduce blood pressure, even if your blood pressure's not particularly high to begin with. Beyond those steps, experts recommend the following dietary changes to help prevent high blood pressure or keep it under control. (Be sure to consult your doctor, however, before making any significant dietary changes, especially if you are already taking medication to treat high blood pressure.)
Eat right: Research supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute led to the development of an eating plan that can prevent and help treat high blood pressure.
The eating plan, known as the DASH -- named after a key study called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension -- is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. It also includes whole-grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts, and it limits meat, sweets, and sugary beverages. This makes for a diet rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber -- a winning combination for lowering blood pressure.
Cut back on salt: Research using the DASH diet and different levels of dietary sodium confirmed what has been advised for many years -- reducing dietary sodium and salt can help lower blood pressure. Some people, such as African Americans and the elderly, are especially sensitive to salt and sodium and should be particularly careful about how much they consume.
Being sensitive to salt (or sodium) means you have a tendency to retain fluid when you take in too much salt, probably because of a defect in your kidneys' ability to get rid of sodium. Your body tries to dilute the sodium in the blood by conserving fluids. This forces your blood vessels to work extra hard to circulate the additional blood volume.
The nerves on the blood vessels become overstimulated and start signaling the vessels to constrict (get smaller). This only makes it harder for the heart to pump, eventually causing blood pressure to rise. Some people are less sensitive to the effects of excess salt. But because Americans use much more salt and sodium than they need -- we consume anywhere from 6 to 20 grams of sodium a day -- it's wise for most people to cut back. Your goal is to consume no more than 2.4 grams (2,300 milligrams) of sodium a day. That equals six grams (about a teaspoon) of table salt a day. Depending on how high your blood pressure is, your doctor may advise less.
Remember, the six grams includes all salt and sodium consumed, including that used in cooking, at the table, and in processed and commercially prepared foods.
As much as 75 percent of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods. Only 10 percent of the salt we eat is there naturally, and about 15 percent is added during cooking and at the table. But since the taste for salt is learned -- unlike our inborn taste for sugar -- you can also learn to enjoy food with less salt. Retrain your taste buds and learn to enjoy food with less salt.
Before trying a salt substitute, check with your doctor. Many of them contain potassium chloride, and you may end up taking in too much potassium, which can be harmful, especially in combination with certain medications.
In the next section we will review other foods that may help in lowering or preventing high blood pressure.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.