May 17, 2011

Keeping Your Blood Pressure Down

Anna Minter, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Dietetic Intern, Pinellas County Extension

Blood Pressure Cuff
If you go to your local pharmacy, chances are there is a large blood-pressure machine available for you to test your blood pressure while waiting for your prescriptions. One major reason for the popularity of these machines is the large number of Americans who suffer from hypertension, more commonly known as “high blood pressure.” May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. Even if you do not have high blood pressure, it is important to be aware of the facts. You might be able to pass along some good advice to a friend or loved one suffering from this condition.

First of all, it is important to understand what high blood pressure is. When a person has high blood pressure, the pressure inside the arteries is too high. This increased pressure makes it difficult for oxygen and nutrients carried by the blood to reach all parts of the body. According to the American Heart Association, 74.5 million American adults suffer from high blood pressure, which places them at higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems. Most cases are of unknown cause and many have sudden onset. For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends checking your blood pressure at least every two years.

Blood pressure is measured in mm Hg, which is a common pressure measuring unit. When measuring your blood pressure, normal readings should be about 120/80 mm Hg or lower. The first number such as “120” is the “systolic” pressure or the pressure in your arteries when your heart is contracting. The second number such as “80” is the “diastolic” pressure or the pressure in your arteries when your heart is relaxed. If one or both of these numbers becomes too high, your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure.

Reducing Sodium – A Great Way to Fight Hypertension
If you have high blood pressure, there are things that you can do to help yourself stay as healthy as possible. One of these things is to limit the amount of sodium in your diet. Although sodium is a nutrient required by the body, most people consume far too much of it. Numerous scientific studies have shown that people who eat more sodium have higher blood pressure than those who consume less sodium. The majority of the sodium you consume comes from salt, so reducing the amount of salt you use is an important way to reduce your overall intake. An excellent way to start is to avoid using the salt shaker at the table, but be aware that the majority of the sodium you eat is already inside the food before you add anything to it! Many foods that you buy at the grocery or in restaurants are prepared with a large amount of sodium. In the grocery, make sure to read the nutrition label and choose the products with the lowest amount of sodium. At restaurants, ask that your food be made without salt, when possible. After a few weeks, you will not miss the saltiness, and you will notice new flavors you had been missing!

You might ask, “So how much sodium can I have?” The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published earlier this year, make important new recommendations for sodium. The maximum amount recommended per day is 2,300 milligrams, or about one teaspoon. For individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, the maximum amount allowed is 1,500 milligrams, which is less than one teaspoon. This also is true for all African Americans, and anyone age 51 or older, as these people are at greater risk for sodium-related health complications. Keep in mind; those 1,500 mg include any salt used in cooking, as well as any salt sprinkled on prepared food. You can begin fighting your high blood pressure today by switching to salt-free seasoning blends. These will flavor your foods without adding sodium! Consult your favorite cookbook or recipe site for using herbs and spices instead of salt or visit this website for several recipes: Enjoy!

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