We know that high blood pressure is linked to a higher risk of heart and kidney disease. Can it be cured? No easy answers there. Can it be prevented? A resounding yes! Nutrition research provides the answer.
Let’s get the facts clear first—A person is called ‘hypertensive’ if the systolic blood pressure (the upper value) is higher than 130 mm Hg or the diastolic blood pressure (lower value) is higher than 80mm Hg on at least three consecutive readings.
First, keep your weight in check, it's the best thing you can do for your heart. Get moving to burn the ‘spare tyres’ around the waist. Your ticker will love you for it.
Psst...if the complicated BMI calculations leave you a little stumped, just remember this. Ladies, keep your waist circumference below 88 cm, and gentlemen, don't let the beer belly expand beyond 102 cm.
Eat your way to a healthy heart: The DASH strategy
· Diet Check: Dietary strategies such as the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension), OmniHeart and the Mediterranean Diets have shown beneficial results. Based on an abundance of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, reduced saturated fats and higher monounsaturated fat intake, they’re a good way to achieve lowered-blood-pressure-effects.
A balanced diet with sufficient intake of plant proteins, fibre and micronutrients have been linked to lower blood pressure levels. If you’re thinking you’ll pop supplements to do the job, hang on. This effect has not been observed with supplements. In the Indian context, this translates to a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains and proteins predominantly from plant sources such as dals, legumes, and nuts, and low in saturated fats (such as ghee) and dietary cholesterol. This suggests minimal intake of red and cured meats. This is the essence of DASH, OmniHeart and Mediterranean Diets.
· Watch the salt: The biggest contributor of sodium in our diets is salt. Reducing the salt intake involves reducing the salt added while cooking and doing away with:
o The salt shaker from the table
o Pickles, papads, packaged chutneys, sauces, ketchup and salted nuts
o Salted snacks, bread and baked foods
o Cured meats.
Make reading labels of processed foods a habit, this will help you identify foods with high sources of sodium from sneaking into your diet. The goal is less than a teaspoon of salt in your daily diet!
· Get more potassium: Increasing potassium intake has shown blood-pressure-lowering effects. All fruits, particularly bananas and oranges as also coconut water are high in potassium. High potassium diets are of course indicated for people with normal kidney function. Nature also favours this ratio as foods high in potassium are naturally low in sodium.
What else can you do?
· No Patiala pegs: Alcohol usage is associated with higher than normal blood pressure levels. Most studies have found that two drinks among men, and one for women, could be safe intake. However, these observations are influenced by factors such presence or predisposition to diabetes, Asian or Caucasian race, etc. Check with your medical practitioner your ‘safe’ or ‘tolerable’ intake level.
· Get a life! We’ve been told umpteen times that stress is bad for us, but what does cutting stress mean? What you need is to give your mind and body a space to unwind, relax. Cultivate a passion, or a physical activity, go on holidays and spend time with family—things that gladden the heart are good for you.
· Keep Moving: For non-hypertensives, moderate intensity dynamic exercise (such as walking, cycling, jogging or swimming) for 30-60 minutes, 4 to7 days a week are recommended. Higher intensities of exercise are not effective.
So, what’s the verdict?
Dietary and lifestyle tweaks can go a long way in preventing hypertension. Adopt a healthy dietary pattern, restrict alcohol, stay active. Start NOW!
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