May 6, 2013

Keeping the Pressure Down

Ashley Benedick,    
Dietetic Intern    
Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about 68 million Americans or 1 out of every 3 adults are living with high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension. High blood pressure is classified as 140/90 or higher. High blood pressure is often known as the “silent killer” because there are often no symptoms. However, in time high blood pressure can lead to numerous health conditions including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. High blood pressure can be controlled with proper diet and exercise. It is important to know how to achieve a healthy blood pressure to decrease the risks of chronic health problems.

Following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure. This dietary approach emphasizes eating low sodium foods, increasing fruits and vegetables, low fat or non-fat dairy, and incorporating whole grains. The healthy eating plan is high in fiber, low to moderate in fat, and rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Here's a look at the recommended servings from each food group for the 2,000-calorie-a-day DASH diet.

Grains (6 to 8 servings a day)
Grains include bread, cereal, rice and pasta. One serving of grains would include 1 slice whole-wheat bread, 1 ounce (oz.) dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta. Focus on whole grains because they have more fiber and nutrients than do refined grains. Look for products labeled "100 percent whole grain" or "100 percent whole wheat."

Vegetables (4 to 5 servings a day)
Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens, tomatoes and other vegetables are good sources of fiber, vitamins, and such minerals as potassium and magnesium. A serving would be 1 cup raw leafy green vegetables or 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables.

Fruits (4 to 5 servings a day)
Fruits are a great choice since they need little preparation to become a healthy part of a meal or snack. They too are packed with fiber, potassium and magnesium and are typically low in fat. Avocados and coconuts are two exceptions. One serving would include 1 medium fruit or 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit.

Dairy (2 to 3 servings a day)
Milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products are major sources of calcium, vitamin D and protein. Make sure those choices are low-fat or fat-free because otherwise they can be a major source of fat. Examples of one serving include 1 cup fat free (skim) or 1% milk, 1 cup yogurt or 1 1/2 oz. cheese.

Lean meat, poultry and fish (6 or fewer servings a day)
Meat is a rich source of protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. Even lean varieties contain fat and cholesterol, so keep an eye on how much you eat. A serving would include 1 oz. cooked skinless poultry, seafood or lean meat, 1 egg, or 1 oz. water-packed, no-salt-added canned tuna.

Nuts, seeds and legumes (4 to 5 servings a week)
Another rich source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and protein include foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, peas, lentils and other foods in this family. Serving sizes are small and to be consumed weekly because these foods are high in calories. Examples of one serving include 1/3 cup (1 1/2 oz.) nuts, 2 tablespoons seeds or 1/2 cup cooked beans or peas.

Fats and oils (2 to 3 servings a day)
The DASH diet strives for a healthy balance of fats. While fat helps your body absorb essential vitamins and helps your body's immune system, too much fat increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. To help you moderate the amount of fat you consume, choose small portions. Examples of a serving include 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons light salad dressing.

Sweets (5 or fewer a week)
You don't have to give up sweets entirely while following the DASH diet. Enjoy them in small amounts. Examples of one serving include 1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet or 1 cup (8 oz.) lemonade.

In addition to a healthy diet, physical activity and achieving a healthy body weight can help decrease blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic physical activity per week and muscle strengthening activity at least 2 times a week. Aerobic exercise could be done for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. There are a wide variety of aerobic exercises to try: biking, jogging, aerobic class, swimming, or brisk walking.

Achieving a healthy diet and healthy body weight can help reduce blood pressure and prevent hypertension. By reducing sodium intake, eating a healthy diet, and increasing physical activity, many health complications can be avoided.

Pinellas County Extension has information and programs to help people manage their blood pressure. Call us at 727-582-2100 to arrange a program for your group.


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