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Hypertension – Reducing Your Risk For High Blood Pressure

Intro: April 7th is international World Health Day and we’re talking high blood pressure.

World Health Day is celebrated internationally on April 7th, and each year, the organization picks a theme that “highlights a priority area of public health concern in the world”. For 2013, the issue of concern is high blood pressure. One in three adults around the world suffer from high blood pressure, so chances are high that you, or someone in your family, has it or is at risk of having it. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure can cause increase the risk of serious health conditions, like stroke, heart attacks and heart failure. If you have diabetes, then those risks are even higher.  Plus, for older women at risk of Osteoporosis, excessive sodium might cause the body to excrete calcium.

High blood pressure is most commonly associated with a high-salt, high sodium diet. The recommended intake of sodium is below 2,300 mg per day and if you think of it terms of quantity, consider this: just one teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 milligrams (mg) of sodium and a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup a whopping 890mg.  Odds are, you’re getting more sodium than is healthy.  As a matter of fact, most Americans get DOUBLE the recommended amount.

So, should you never look at a saltshaker or can of soup again? That’s not realistic, nor necessary, since you shouldn’t cut out sodium entirely from your diet. Sodium is essential to your body, helping it maintain the right balance of fluids. The key is to make sure you keep the quantity you consume low, and that means making a few chances in your diet.

Cut Back on Processed Foods
The main culprit for the rise of high blood pressure in the US is the massive consumption of processed and packaged foods. These foods are PACKED in salt, to preserve them and to enhance the flavor. Avoid especially anything that comes in a can or frozen (like packaged pizzas or frozen portioned meals). Of course, your busy modern lifestyle might not allow you to make homemade dishes for every meal, so if you eat a prepared frozen meal, like Lean Cuisine, make sure you choose one that has under 600mg of sodium, and watch your salt intake the rest of the day.

Binge on Veggies
Fruits, too.  Most non-processed foods like fresh vegetables and fresh fruits have negligible amounts of sodium. They’re full of vitamins, minerals, and are just overall the best types of foods you can eat.  There are certain vegetables that even help lower your high blood pressure, thanks to some key vitamins and minerals, especially potassium and magnesium. What veggies to buy in bulk? Anything rich in potassium and magnesium, both great allies for lowering blood pressure. For example: spinach, beans (black, white, navy, pinto, lima and kidney), potatoes, and bananas (high in potassium).

Be A Dairy Queen (or King)
Fruits and vegetables are not the only foods that help lower blood pressure. Skim milk and other low-fat milk-derived products like yogurt and cottage cheese can reduce the risk of hypertension. These foods contain Vitamin D and calcium, two powerhouses that work together reduce blood pressure, sometimes by as much as 10%.  Replace or supplement your usual breakfast with a bowl of cottage cheese with some mixed berries (also delicious for a dessert!).

One Square a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Another great, unexpected and delicious heart-helping, high-blood-pressure-busting food? Dark chocolate! Just one little square of dark chocolate can help to lower your blood pressure in just 18 weeks, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The trick is to choose chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa powder, and to keep it to one piece a day, since chocolate is high in calories.

Love the Labels
The best and easiest way to control your salt and sodium intake is to read labels. Nutrition labels must state you how much sodium is in one serving of any given food. Note: keep an eye too on how many servings you’re consuming.  The renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota recommends that you keep to under 200mg per serving. A slice of whole wheat bread, for example, has about 132mg of sodium, so that’s a good breakfast choice.  Want to know the sodium content of most foods? Check out the super useful USDA National Nutrient Database sodium reference chart, here.

Masters in Marketing
Beware of gimmicky marketing claims that some food companies like to use, with words like “reduced” or “light” in sodium. Yes, a food might be reduced in sodium, but how much sodium did it have to begin with? 25% less sodium out of 1000mg is still 750mg of sodium, a pretty high amount. Go instead for “Sodium Free” (less than 5mg), Very Low Sodium (less than 35mg) and Low Sodium (less than 140mg).

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Photo credits: The Allergista

Move That Body
It’s not just what you eat; lowering your high blood pressure also means living a healthy lifestyle, which goes beyond diet. Exercise is an integral part of maintaining a healthy body weight, so make sure you get the recommended 30 minutes daily.

No Smoking Allowed
If you’re looking for another reason to quit, consider this: every cigarette you smoke temporarily increases your blood pressure while you’re smoking it and for several minutes afterwards. So if you have high blood pressure or at risk, quit. If you’re not at risk, quit anyway!

Leading a healthy, active lifestyle and following a low sodium diet is the best, proven way to reduce not only your high blood pressure, but also your risk of many diseases.  So on April 7th, go your neighborhood pharmacy, have your blood pressure checked, and see what chances you need to make to your life to be as healthy as you can possibly be.  Happy Health Day 2013!

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