Did you know that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease? To ensure good heart health, The American Heart Association recommends your blood pressure be less than 130/80. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, increases the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries, narrowing and damaging your arteries over time. This damage can ultimately limit the amount of blood that can free flow throughout your body. High blood pressure can contribute to problems throughout your body – like stroke, heart attack, kidney damage and more.
Salt is the biggest contributing factor to high blood pressure – in fact, Americans consume more than 10 times the daily recommended amount! Some people have genetic factors that lead to the condition, even when they’re eating a heart healthy diet. But most people will greatly benefit from a diet that’s low in sodium.
The National Institute of Health recommends a diet called DASH – dietary approaches to stop hypertension. The plan emphasizes eating more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. It also recommends limiting foods high in cholesterol, trans fats and saturated fats. Following DASH will likely mean you will increase your servings of fruits, vegetables and grains. Here are a few DASH diet suggestions:
Stock up on the good stuff.
Eating fish like herring, mackerel and salmon a few meals a week is a great way to support a healthy heart. Chickpeas, lentils and pinto beans are also important in controlling blood sugar and providing the fiber your body needs. Instead of fatty red meat or process foods, choose whole grain breads, poultry, fish and nuts to keep you satisfied.
Packaged or processed foods are laden with salt – from tuna to cereal to canned soup. When you shop, focus on fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables rather than canned veggies, lunchmeats, and instant or ready-to-eat options. It’s also a good idea to skip the chips and fries, or at least limit how much and how often you eat them.
Use more spices and less salt.
Most Americans should consume more than 2.4 grams of sodium a day, and those with high blood pressure should eat less. People use salt in food prep because it tastes good, and food prepared without seasoning is bland. So spice up your life by experimenting with herbs and spices like basil, cinnamon, chili powder, parsley, rosemary and more. Start with a small amount and build flavor as you go.
Make small, manageable changes.
We know that making changes to what and how much you eat isn’t easy. First, write down your specific goals for habit change and set aside time each week to check your progress. It’s also smart to plan out your meals so you aren’t tempted when hunger strikes.
Keeping your blood pressure under control contributes to a healthy life – and reduces your risk of heart attacks, strokes and other common health conditions. If controlling your blood pressure is important to you, following a diet that’s low in sodium is a good place to start. If you find these changes aren’t lowering blood pressure numbers adequately, you doctor may recommend medications to move your blood pressure into a safer range.