News You Can Use Distributed 05/01/07
Nearly one in three American adults has high blood pressure. During May, National High Blood Pressure Education Month, LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames urges people to learn more about the importance of preventing and treating high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is called the silent killer because it usually has no symptoms. Some people may not find out they have it until they have trouble with their heart, brain or kidneys. Untreated high blood pressure can cause heart failure, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and vision problems or blindness.
High blood pressure is a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher. According to 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.
Reames says blood pressure fluctuates – being lowest during sleep and rising as you start the day. 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 sitting or standing still.
A blood pressure reading below 120/80 mmHg is considered normal. In general, lower is better. Very low blood pressure, however, can sometimes be a cause for concern and should be checked out by a doctor.
Blood pressure readings that stay at 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high blood pressure. Reames says both numbers are important. If one or both numbers are usually high, you have high blood pressure.
If you are being treated for high blood pressure and have repeated readings in the normal range, you still have high blood pressure.
Prehypertension 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, Reames says it’s important to take action to prevent it.
The nutritionist offers healthy habits to prevent or control high blood pressure:
• Cut down on salt and sodium
• Eat healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products
• Lose excess weight and staying at a healthy weight
• Be physically active
• Quit smoking
• Limit alcohol intake
• Take medicines if prescribed
A common form of high blood pressure in older adults is isolated systolic hypertension. ISH is high blood pressure, but only the top (systolic) number is high (140 or higher). It can be as harmful as high blood pressure in which both numbers are high.
ISH is the most common form of high blood pressure for older adults. About two out of three people over age 60 with high blood pressure have isolated systolic hypertension.
If not treated, the hypertension 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.
Research has shown that following a healthy eating plan can reduce both the risk of developing high blood pressure and lowering an already elevated blood pressure. One of the key recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adopting a balanced eating pattern, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan.
DASH was originally developed to study the effects of diet on preventing hypertension and emphasizes certain foods: more dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products and less refined grains and total fats (especially cholesterol and saturated and trans fat, added sugars and calories).
To get started using the DASH diet, Reames recommends several strategies. 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 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 one-half or one-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.
Reames offers 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 and raw vegetables.
National High Blood Pressure Education Month is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, to help educate people.
For additional information about healthy eating, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.