Have you ever wondered why high blood pressure (hypertension), is often referred to as the “silent epidemic?” One reason it is called an epidemic is the CDC estimates that about 50 percent of Americans do not have a healthy blood pressure level. That’s right, an estimated that 1 in 2 Americans have high blood pressure. The concerning part, high blood pressure itself rarely has symptoms until it starts affecting other organs in the body.
High blood pressure can be very dangerous because it increases our risk for a heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, and blindness. Therefore regular blood pressure screenings are so important. Studies show that food and lifestyle can have a significant impact on our health and help up to maintain a healthy blood pressure. The earlier we can identify a problem, the sooner we can take proactive measures.
But can foods really make a significant difference? Research says, yes! In fact, there is one diet that was specially designed to help with high blood pressure. That’s called the DASH diet: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. And research says it works.
[Disclaimer: If your doctor recommends medication to help you control your blood pressure, be sure to take it as directed and go for routine monitoring or testing as required.]
Blood pressure is how much pressure your heart needs to use to keep blood flowing through your vessels and getting oxygen and nutrients to all our vital organs and tissues. Imagine water flowing through a flexible tube versus water flowing through a stiff, hard, narrow pipe. The more force that’s needed, not only is more pressure placed on the blood vessels, but the pump (the heart) must work harder as well. Over many years, damage can build up in the heart and in the blood vessels.
A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg. The first number (in this case, 120 mm Hg) is the systolic pressure in your vessels as your heart beats. The second number (in this case, 80 mm Hg) is the diastolic pressure in your vessels when your heart relaxes.
If your blood pressure is slightly higher than these numbers, that’s considered “elevated or prehypertension.” However, if your blood pressure gets above 130/80 mm Hg, you may be diagnosed with hypertension.
High blood pressure usually develops over many years. It can happen as a result of diabetes or obesity, a sedentary lifestyle or sitting too much. You may also be at risk if you have a family history. It can also sometimes happen during pregnancy. In many cases, no specific cause is identified.
The good news is that there are ways you can manage high blood pressure and lower your risk for heart disease (angina, heart attack, heart failure), stroke, kidney disease, and vision loss.
There are several healthy lifestyle habits that can lower your risk for developing high blood pressure
Managing stress levels. This one can be often overlooked. Stress comes in many forms, but it has been linked to increasing blood pressure and increased risk for heart disease.
Your blood pressure is impacted by your nutrition. In fact, several micronutrients have been linked to blood pressure. The nutrients associated with lower blood pressure include the minerals potassium, magnesium, and calcium, along with fiber and protein. Certain antioxidants have also been linked to helping us to maintain a healthier blood pressure. The most infamous mineral linked to increased blood pressure is sodium.
According to the American Heart Association, in general, the more sodium you consume, the higher your blood pressure. Sodium is one part of the salt compound, sodium chloride. Believe or not, the biggest source of your sodium intake may be found in processed and packaged foods and not your kitchen saltshaker.
A recent study enrolled 20,995 participants with a history of stroke or high blood pressure to see if using a lower-sodium salt substitute would reduce their risk of stroke, heart incidents, and death. They asked half of the people enrolled to use regular salt over several years, while the other half agreed to use the salt substitute (75% sodium chloride and 25% potassium chloride). After almost most five years, those who used the lower-sodium salt had fewer strokes, heart incidents, and deaths. Their risks were reduced by 12-14%. Now, imagine incorporating this with other lifestyle measures.
The DASH diet is a dietary pattern that was created specifically to address hypertension by lowering sodium and highlighting foods with nutrients that supported a healthy blood pressure. Harvard Health also rated the DASH diet and says, “research supports the use of the DASH diet as a healthy eating pattern that may help to lower blood pressure, and prevent or reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, kidney disease, and gout.” Some studies show that the blood pressure-lowering effect of the DASH diet can be similar to that of people taking medication for stage 1 hypertension.
The DASH diet is full of heart-healthy foods with blood-pressure-lowering nutrients. The recommendations for a 2,000 calorie per day intake include:
The DASH diet limits very few foods and nutrients:
One thing to keep in mind when transitioning to a higher-fiber diet with more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is to do this slowly to reduce your risk of experiencing gas and bloating. This can easily be accomplished by increasing these plant-based foods by one or two per week until you’re eating the recommended amounts.
If you have high blood pressure or simply want to start a healthier diet to reduce your risk for a whole host of diseases, then the DASH diet may be for you. The DASH diet is rich in foods that are highly nutritious and can help you enjoy a healthier life with lower risk of chronic diseases such as strokes, heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, diabetes, and gout.
The DASH diet is a diet that offers simple suggestions on how to include foods with nutrients that support healthy blood pressure. It includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting sodium and trans fats.
Concerned about high blood pressure? Interested in how to best implement the dietary and lifestyle habits to reduce your risk of heart issues and other diseases? Want help creating a doable plan so that you can live your longest, healthiest life? Book an appointment with me today to see if my program can help you.