Do you have high blood pressure?
If so, you have a lot of company.
The American Heart Association reports that an estimated 103 million U.S. adults now have high blood pressure.
That is almost half of all U.S. adults.
High blood pressure was redefined last year for first time in 14 years. It is now defined as 130/80 mm Hg and higher, according to guidelines by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. That’s up from the old definition of 140/90.
The higher number measures your systolic blood pressure and the lower number measures the diastolic.
Why does it matter?
High blood pressure greatly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the country’s leading killers.
It’s also often called “the silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms.
Risk factors include age, being overweight, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, stress, family history and not being physically active.
Given the statistics, it’s good news that eating the right foods can help us naturally control our blood pressure.
Aside from the cost of blood pressure medications, there are also potential side effects.
So, which foods to look for?
“Foods that are high in potassium, magnesium and fiber,” said Jill Traegde-Halstead, a registered dietitian and certified lifestyle counselor in weight management with Carilion Clinic.
- Sweet and white potatoes
- Green leafy vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-fat dairy products
- Whole-grain cereals
- High-fiber pastas and rice
But while eating a serving or two a day from the list may make you feel virtuous, you need a more systematic approach to really see results.
That’s where the DASH diet comes in.
“Following the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a good way for people to lower their blood pressure,” Traegde-Halstead said.
Make It Daily
The diet calls for eating these foods daily:
- Eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables
- Two to three servings of low-fat dairy products
- Six to eight servings of high-fiber grains
- Lots of fish and poultry
“After a few weeks on the DASH diet, you can lower your blood pressure by a few points,” Traegde-Halstead said. “Over time, you can reduce it by 8 to 14 points.”
The diet is also low in saturated fats and sugar and limits sodium intake to 1,500 to 2,300 mg daily.
One caveat: It isn’t appropriate if you have kidney disease.
People with kidney, or renal disease, need to limit their potassium because their kidneys can no longer filter this mineral from the blood.
That said, many people have used the diet, along with lifestyle changes, to get healthier.
“By eating the DASH diet, losing weight and exercising, many people are able to discontinue their blood pressure medications,” said Traegde-Halstead.
As summer approaches, it’s also a great time to start making a lifestyle change.
Local farmers markets are in full swing, and you can build your meals around ripe, flavor-packed fresh fruits and veggies. Some markets even sell fresh fish.
Need more inspiration?
It will improve your family’s health!
Think pizza can't be healthy? Try our Rainbow Flatbread Pizzas.