May is blood pressure awareness month; Nutritionist offers tips for controlling yours

Elizabeth S. Reames, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  5/6/2008 12:29:55 AM

News Release Distributed 05/05/08

May is high blood pressure awareness month, and LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says since nearly one in three American adults has high blood pressure, it's important to learn more about preventing and treating this disease.

High blood pressure is a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher. According to information from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime.

“The good news is that it can be treated and controlled, however,” Reames said.

High blood pressure is called the silent killer, because it usually has no obvious symptoms, so people can go for years with the disease and not know about it – unless they’re having routine blood pressure checks.

“Some people may not find out they have it until they have trouble with their heart, brain or kidneys,” Reames explained. “Untreated high blood pressure can cause heart failure, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and vision problems or blindness.”

Blood pressure changes and is lowest during sleep but rises when you get up. It also can rise when you are excited, nervous or active. For most of your waking time, however, blood pressure stays about the same when you are sitting or standing still.

A blood pressure reading below 120/80 mmHg is considered normal.

“In general, lower is better,” Reames said. “But very low blood pressure can sometimes be a cause for concern and should be checked out by a doctor.”

When blood pressure readings stay at 140/90 mmHg or higher, this is considered high blood pressure.

“Both numbers are important,” the LSU AgCenter expert stressed. “If one or both numbers usually are high, you have high blood pressure.”

Pre-hypertension is blood pressure between 120 and 139 for the top number or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number.

“Since prehypertension is likely to lead to high blood pressure, it’s important to take action to prevent it,” Reames advised.

In addition, she pointed out that even if you are being treated for high blood pressure and have repeated readings in the normal range, you still have high blood pressure.

The LSU AgCenter nutritionist said these healthy habits can help to prevent or control high blood pressure:

  • Cutting down on salt and sodium.
  • Eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
  • Losing excess weight and staying at a healthy weight.
  • Being physically active.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Limiting alcohol intake.
  • Taking medicines that may be prescribed for you.

A common form of high blood pressure in older adults is isolated systolic hypertension (ISH). ISH is high blood pressure, but only the top (systolic) number is high (140 or higher).

“Isolated systolic hypertension can be just as harmful as high blood pressure in which both numbers are high,” Reames explained. “It’s the most common form of high blood pressure for older adults. About two out of three people over age 60 who have high blood pressure have ISH.”

If not treated, ISH can cause damage to arteries and body organs. ISH is treated the same way as high blood pressure in which both systolic and diastolic pressures are high – by making changes in your health habits and with blood pressure medicines, Reames said.

“Research has shown that following a healthy eating plan, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan, can both reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower an already elevated blood pressure,” Reames said.

DASH emphasizes these foods: more dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains and low-fat milk and milk products. It also stresses consuming less refined grains, total fats (especially cholesterol and saturated and trans fat), added sugars and calories.

To get started using the DASH diet, Reames offers this advice:

  • If you now eat one or two vegetables a day, add a serving at lunch and another at dinner. If you don’t eat fruit now or have only juice at breakfast, add a serving to your meals or have it as a snack.
  • Use only half the margarine, salad dressing or butter you do now.
  • Gradually increase dairy products to three servings per day. For example, drink milk with lunch or dinner – instead of soda, alcohol or sugar-sweetened tea. Choose low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free (skim) dairy products to reduce total fat intake.
  • Try low-fat or fat-free condiments, such as fat-free salad dressings.
  • Treat meat as one part of the whole meal, instead of the focus.
  • Limit meat to 6 ounces a day (two servings). That’s all that’s needed. Keep in mind that 3 to 4 ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • If you now eat large portions of meat, cut back gradually? by a half or a third at each meal. Include two or more vegetarian-style (meatless) meals each week.
  • Increase servings of vegetables, rice, pasta and dry beans in meals. Try casseroles, pasta and stir-fry dishes with less meat and more vegetables.
  • Use fruits or low-fat foods as desserts and snacks. Fruits and low-fat foods offer great taste and variety. Use fruits canned in their own juice. Fresh fruits require little or no preparation. Dried fruits are easy to carry with you.
  • Try these snack ideas: unsalted pretzels or nuts mixed with raisins; graham crackers; low-fat and fat-free yogurt; frozen yogurt; plain popcorn with no salt or butter added; and raw vegetables.

For additional information about healthy eating, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contact: Beth Reames at (225) 578-3329 or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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