Change Your Diet to Control High Blood Pressure
It’s so hard to make dietary changes, even if it’s just because we want to fit into our high school jeans or look good for a reunion. But knowing you have to change – or possibly die too soon – lights a fire under you to succeed.
There are five dietary elements we’re going to concentrate on. After diet, you’ll also want to implement a few other changes to your daily routine – and we’ll cover each one of those individually.
Usually, people who adopt better lifestyle changes (including dietary revisions) see improvement in their numbers within 14 days of altering their routines. And you’ll see side benefits as well, such as weight loss and lower cholesterol levels for your LDL readings.
Limit Your Alcohol
When it comes to alcohol intake, the news can be a little confusing. One day they’re telling you that drinking it can benefit your health, and the next they’re advising you to steer clear.
But like most things – the key is simple moderation. For healthier blood pressure readings, stick to just 1 alcoholic drink per day for women and 2 for men. It’s that easy!
Blood pressure is affected by alcohol in short spikes and over a long period of time. If you drink 3 or more alcohol-laden drinks in one sitting, you’ll see a short spike. But long-term binge drinkers see a steady increase in their hypertension, too.
People suffering from high blood pressure ideally will eliminate alcohol completely. But if you can’t come to terms with that, then at the very least drink it in moderation where you have one 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce mixed drink (80-proof).
It’s not good to drink high caloric alcohol drinks if weight is an issue for you. It contributes to putting on pounds and then affects your blood pressure, too. And if your doctor has put you on medication for your blood pressure already, then it could hamper its ability to treat your numbers!
What kind of change can you expect when you reduce or eliminate your alcohol intake? A couple of digits will be lowered (1-4), but much of that depends on what level of consumption you had as well as your age and other factors.
Use a Healthy Amount of Salt and Drink More Water
There are two numbers you need to know when it comes to salt intake – 2,300 and 1,500 mg/day. The first number is the highest recommended salt intake given by the National High Blood Pressure Education Program. The other number is what you should strive to achieve.
What do you think your intake currently is? If you’re like most Americans, it’s probably anywhere between 3,300 and 4,200 mg per day – but it could even be higher than that because sodium is in most products we consume, and it’s hard to weed it out of your diet.
Your kidneys process the salt that you take in. And if you take in more than the kidneys can process, it causes fluid pressure to build up against your artery walls, spiking blood pressure.
If this happens often enough over time, your blood vessel walls get thicker to handle the pressure being exerted against it, but that narrows your arteries, which eventually hurts your heart because it has to work even harder to try to push the blood flow through your body.
It’s tough to start out reducing your salt intake. Foods will initially taste as if they’re not salted enough. But time heals in the case of salt cravings – and eventually you’ll regain the taste of the original food flavors, where the addition of salt seems excessive to you, even in small amounts.
Your body needs some salt, so don’t go to extremes and eliminate it completely. Reduction and moderation are key to improved blood pressure readings when it comes to sodium.
Start reading labels to see what volume of sodium is included. Items like processed deli meats are packed with salt. But you’ll also find it in places you’d never expect to see salt – like an over-the-counter antacid!
If you think you might be somewhat of a salt addict, then start out by lowering your intake to the maximum level allowed and then work your way down to a more moderate intake over time.
As you read previously, your kidneys are what help you manage the salt your body takes in through the foods that you eat. In order to function properly, your kidneys need a lot of water throughout the day to operate healthy.
Take a break from sodas and other drinks and start consuming more water throughout your day. Drink a glass before meals to help you feel fuller, and sip on it whenever you feel thirsty.
Add Plenty of Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium
You want to take a multi-pronged approach to ensure you get enough potassium, magnesium and calcium in your diet. Let’s cover each one individually so that you can see how it affects blood pressure and how you can add it into your diet.
It’s advised that you take in 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day. Potassium is what counters the effects of salt in your body. How can you get more of this into your food plan? Choose among these foods that are rich in potassium:
· Potatoes (sweet and other types)
· Greens (spinach, mustard, collard, or turnip for example)
· Yogurt (go with a low fat or fat free option)
· Fish (tuna or halibut are good options)
· Melons (honeydew or cantaloupe)
· Fruit (apricots, oranges, prunes and grapefruits or their juice counterparts)
· Raisins or dates
· Tomatoes (low sodium if you’re adding it via sauce or juice options)
· Beans (lima or green)
· Milk (only skim or low fat)
Can you overdo it on potassium? Only if you’re elderly or have kidney issues. Steer clear of potassium supplements unless your doctor prescribes them. They can be harmful to people suffering from specific medical conditions.
Let’s move on to magnesium. This mineral is thought to help with lowering blood pressure, too. Many of the same foods that contain a lot of potassium also have an ample amount of magnesium in them. Adults should take anywhere from 310 to 420 mg per day of magnesium.
Here are some you should add into your diet in addition to the ones already on your potassium list previously:
· Cashews or almonds
· Readymade pudding
· Black Eyed peas
· Kidney beans
Moving on to calcium, you’ll notice that many of the items listed in the potassium and magnesium lists also deliver an abundance of calcium to your diet. Studies show that you should add approximately 1,000 mg of calcium each day to improve blood pressure readings.
In addition to the yogurt, milk, leafy green, orange juice and soybeans already found on the two previous lists (which are rich in calcium), here are a few others to add to your daily food plan:
· Cheese (low fat or skim)
· Calcium fortified foods such as cereals, breads or soymilk.
Increase Fruits and Vegetables, But Limit Meat and Sugar
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, many have already been listed previously for you. They’re full of fiber and lots of nutritious elements that contribute to the process of lowering your blood pressure.
But let’s talk about meat – a central item to many people’s meals, even if it is only supposed to resemble a side dish portion. If you can, try to add a few meatless days into your weekly menu planning.
The meat substitute products on the market now are very flavorful, such as the soy-based crumbles as a substitute for hamburger meat tacos. Just make sure you choose low sodium taco seasoning, low fat or skim cheese, and add avocados and tomatoes on top for a perfect blood pressure friendly meal!
If you eat meats like beef and chicken, then make sure you go for lean cuts. They cost a little more, but that’s okay – because you shouldn’t be eating a huge platter of meat when trying to lower blood pressure anyway. A small 5-ounce filet mignon plated with plenty of vegetables and whole grain rice is a perfect pairing.
Sugar is just as much a culprit in boosting your blood pressure as salt is. Try cutting back on sodas if you drink them throughout the day. Studies show that even cutting out 6 ounces (that’s half a can) from your consumption of sodas has a positive effect on your blood pressure.
Scientists haven’t yet nailed out the exact reason why sugar contributes to increased blood pressure readings, but it could be because sugar causes your body to hold onto salt, and salt has a direct effect on your hypertension diagnosis.
Try cutting back on sugar to see what kind of effect it has on your own personal blood pressure readings. Switch to dietary sugar options or just moderate your consumption of sugar.
Rev Up Your Fiber Intake
People who don’t eat enough fiber often suffer from diabetes and heart disease. Alternatively, those who up their fiber intake see a reduction in high blood pressure numbers.
Not all fiber is the same – there’s soluble and insoluble fiber (soluble dissolves in water, but insoluble absorbs the water). You need both in your diet. Studies have shown that your systolic (top number) blood pressure can be reduced by eating more insoluble fiber (like whole wheat or brown rice), and the bottom number was lowered with any type of fiber additions.
Soluble fiber is found in barley and oats, fruit (both dried and fresh), and legumes. Insoluble fiber can be taken in through the addition of whole grains and wheat foods – as well as some vegetable choices.
So, for this step, don’t look at what has to be cut out of your diet – look at what you get to add into your daily meals – things like:
· Fresh vegetables
· Whole wheat bread, rolls, pasta, muffins, or bagels
· Whole grain cereal
· Brown rice
One word of advice, though. While you want to make fast changes to your blood pressure readings, adding too much too soon to your diet in the way of fiber might cause you to suffer an upset stomach. People have reported bloating whenever they upped their fiber intake dramatically all at once.
Easing Into the Dietary Mindset
When you’re diagnosed with a health condition and are told you have to make changes, the rigid restrictions can be very depressing. Food is a part of our cultural activities, it provides comfort – and we enjoy it!
Think of this task as what you have to add, rather than what you have to cut out. If you’re adding more whole grains and fruit, you won’t be hungry for more sugar-laden or salt-heavy carbs – it’s a nice side effect.
But do become aware of what you’re putting into your body, because some of the things that help this silent killer are snuck into your food sources where you wouldn’t even think they would be lurking.