Regular check-ups with your physician will allow you to keep on top of your current blood pressure. As you age, it’s common for blood pressure to be become consistently high; this is known as hypertension. There are several risk factors for hypertension you can control, such as quitting smoking, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight. However, there are several factors which you can’t control, such as age, family history of hypertension, and ethnicity (African Americans are twice as likely to have high blood pressure as Caucasians). You can reduce your risk of high blood pressure by focusing on the things you CAN change!
The DASH Diet
Lowering your intake of sodium is one of the key recommendations from the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans in lowering blood pressure. Although sodium is a necessary mineral, it is often over-consumed. The recommended daily sodium intake for healthy adults is no more than 2300 mg, which is the amount in one teaspoon of table salt. For adults 51 or older, African Americans, those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, that amount is reduced to 1500 mg per day.
You don’t need to cut salt completely out of your diet to have a positive impact on your blood pressure. Pairing decreased sodium with increased potassium has a greater impact that reducing sodium alone. Potassium is found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Sodium and potassium work together in many functions of the body, including maintaining blood pressure. The system works best when your intake of sodium and potassium are balanced, but in this world of processed, fast food, sources of sodium are consumed far more than sources of potassium.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet isn’t so much a diet as it is a balanced way to eat. It focuses on reducing processed foods and refined grains (lots of sodium), while simultaneously increasing fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, and plant proteins (lots of potassium).
Foods that are great sources of potassium include bananas, raisins, orange, potato, dried beans and peas, salmon, sunflower seeds and yogurt. Opt for fresh over canned, if possible. If you’re using canned beans or legumes, look for low-sodium versions and be sure to drain and rinse them thoroughly before using them.
Soups, breads, canned foods and frozen meals are often packed with sodium. The next time you are in the supermarket take a look at the nutrition label and choose the foods with the lower sodium numbers. Some boxes to pay attention to are cereals, crackers, pasta sauces, canned beans and vegetables, and frozen meals. Low sodium on a label means the product has less than 140 mg of sodium per serving; very low sodium means 35 mg or less per serving and salt or sodium free means less than 5 mg sodium per serving AND does not contain sodium chloride.
The research on the relationship between potassium and blood pressure is so convincing, the FDA has required the amount of potassium per serving to be listed on the newly revised nutrition label as a percentage of the Recommended Dietary Allowance. Although the new label hasn’t been fully implemented yet, some brands have already made the change, so look at both the sodium AND potassium values on processed and packaged food to get a larger picture of how the food may impact your blood pressure, and take them into consideration when finding where they fit best in relation to the DASH diet.