May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, to help educate people about the importance of preventing and treating high blood pressure.
LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says high blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard and contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. These are the first, third and ninth leading causes of death in the United States. High blood pressure can result in other conditions, such as congestive heart failure and blindness.
A blood pressure level of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high. If your blood pressure is between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg, you have prehypertension. This means that you don't have high blood pressure now but are likely to develop it in the future. The 59 million Americans with prehypertension are more likely to suffer heart disease and kidney failure as well.
Both numbers in a blood pressure test are important, but systolic blood pressure, the top number, is the key one to watch – especially for older Americans. It is high if it is 140 mmHg or above. Research shows that the effective treatment of high systolic blood pressure saves lives and greatly reduces illness.
"Despite the health benefits of controlling blood pressure, hypertension control rates, especially control of systolic blood pressure, are worse among older Americans," Reames says. About two-thirds of people over 65 have hypertension. Lowering blood pressure, especially in older people, dramatically reduces strokes, coronary events, heart failure, progression of renal disease and the death rate overall.
Research has shown that following a healthy eating plan can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower an already-elevated blood pressure. A study, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), showed blood pressure could be lowered by following an eating pattern low in salt, saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
One of the key recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is adopting a balanced eating pattern, such as the DASH eating plan. The DASH plan provides the number of servings and amounts of food to consume to meet recommended nutrient intakes at four different calorie levels. It emphasizes dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, less refined grains, less total fats (especially cholesterol, saturated and trans fats), less added sugars and fewer calories.
A second clinical study, DASH-Sodium, looked at the effect of a reduced dietary sodium intake on blood pressure as people followed either the DASH diet or a typical American diet.
Results showed that reducing dietary sodium lowered blood pressure for both the DASH diet and the typical American diet. The biggest blood pressure-lowering benefits were for those eating the DASH diet at the lowest sodium level (1,500 milligrams per day).
"The DASH-Sodium study shows the importance of lowering sodium intake whatever your diet," Reames says, adding, "But for a true winning combination, follow the DASH diet and lower your intake of salt and sodium."
To get started using the DASH diet, the nutritionist makes these suggestions:
– 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 instead of soda, alcohol or sugar-sweetened tea with lunch or dinner. 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 you need. Three to 4 ounces 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 and frozen yogurt, plain popcorn with no salt or butter added and raw vegetables.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension/Departments/fcs/
On the Internet: Dietary Guidelines for Americans http://www.health.gov/DietaryGuidelines/
On the Internet: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or firstname.lastname@example.org