If The Pressure Is On . . .

by Ginger Snyder, RDN, CD

High blood pressure affects almost 1 in 3 American adults. Nearly 29% of the adult US population suffers from high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

Of those 29%, only about half have their condition under control. Risk factors for hypertension include obesity, heredity, advanced age, high sodium diet and alcohol consumption. While stress, smoking and sleep apnea are not scientifically proven to cause hypertension, there is a connection.

How is hypertension diagnosed?  A single blood pressure reading of greater than 140/90 does not mean that you have hypertension.  This diagnosis is made after a pattern of high readings.  Normal blood pressure should be less than 120/80.  Anything between these numbers 120-139 systolic and 80-89 diastolic is considered prehypertensive, or at risk.

Nutrition can play a large factor in controlling hypertension. Limiting portion size to control weight, reducing sodium, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption and increasing fruits and vegetables can all lead to lower blood pressure.

The American diet is typically high in sodium.  Sodium is one of the minerals found in table salt; it is also found in canned foods, cured meats, fast food, cheese and various sauces/ dressings.  When we eat too much salt the body retains water to try and “wash out” the extra sodium. In some people the added water causes blood pressure to rise and puts extra stress on the heart and blood vessels.

Try reducing the amount of sodium in your diet by not using table salt. Read nutrition labels and choose foods lower in sodium, season foods with spices instead of salt based seasonings, limit canned and processed foods. Salt is an acquired taste. If you significantly lower your sodium intake for 90 days your body will adjust and you will no longer crave salty foods.

Try to maintain a healthy body weight.  Decrease portion sizes and high calorie, high fat foods. Increasing fruits and vegetables will not only help with weight loss, but also provide other health benefits as well. The extra potassium, calcium and magnesium from the fruits and vegetables will help regulate the body’s water balance and potentially decrease blood pressure.

Drinking more than 3 servings of alcohol in one setting can temporarily in- crease your blood pressure.  Binge drinking can lead to long-term increases. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your alcohol consumption to not more than two drinks per day for men and not more than one drink per day for women. Alcohol also contains calories, and may contribute to unwanted weight gain, another risk factor for high blood pressure.

There are many factors influencing high blood pressure. While these suggest- ions may help control your condition you should always work with your health care provider to design the best plan of care for your situation. With a combination of lifestyle changes, medications and proper nutrition you can fight off this disease known as the “silent killer”. It is known as the silent killer because it often does not have any warning signs or symptoms so people don’t know they have it.  So don’t forget to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

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