May is National High Blood Pressure Month. I feel that it is critical to address this dangerous condition because is so, so common! One in three adults in the United States have high blood pressure! And nutrition can help prevent or treat it!
First, let me explain what high blood pressure (HBP), also called hypertension, means. Basically, when someone has HBP, it means that the pressure in their blood vessels is higher than it should be. Picture it as blood pushing hard up against your artery walls—that is HBP and it can result in serious problems. HBP is often referred to as the “silent killer” because it doesn’t really have any symptoms and it can damage your heart, brain, and kidneys.
Here’s what to make of your blood pressure numbers…
Systolic Blood Pressure (Top Number)
- Less than 120: Normal
- 120-139: Prehypertension
- 140-159: Stage 1 High Blood Pressure
- 160 or More: Stage 2 High Blood Pressure
Diastolic Blood Pressure (Bottom Number)
- Less than 80: Normal
- 80-89: Prehypertension
- 90-99: Stage 1 High Blood Pressure
- 100 or More: Stage 2 High Blood Pressure
Now that you know what HBP is, let me give you some pointers to help prevent (and treat) it. The first two are related to nutrition and the others are important lifestyle factors.
- Reduce your sodium intake
To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
- Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy. You will see this label often on packaged foods that tend to contain a lot of salt. Deli meat is a big one and so is soup!
- Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
- Don’t add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Instead, use herbs or spices to add flavor to your food. Herbamare is a great salt substitute!
- Ease into it. If you don’t feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.
- Eat more fruit and vegetables
Several studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables can help lower your risk of hypertension. Load up! If you fret that produce will go bad quickly, buy frozen—it has just as many nutrients.
Also, keep in mind, there are several ways to eat fruits and veggies beyond salad! Have celery and nut butter (natural—not salt added). Sneak spinach in a berry smoothie—you won’t even notice it’s there. Make guacamole (season with lime, cilantro, herbamare and cumin).
- Reduce Stress
Stress can also cause HBP. Give yourself time to relax—avoid trying to do so much—lower your expectations! Delegate some of your household responsibilities to your partner and kids. Don’t spend beyond your means and find creative ways to reduce your budget—money problems are one of the biggest stressors.
- Stay Active
Exercise is so important when keeping your BP in check. Being physically active can help you reduce your risk of hypertension in two ways — by directly helping lower your blood pressure, and by helping you manage your weight, which is another high blood pressure risk factor. Regular physical activity — such as 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure. It’s important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again.
Keeping your blood pressure in check can lead to a longer, healthier life! I hope these tips (reminders for some) have helped you brainstorm an action plan of how you plan to lower your BP if it is on the high end!