Nutrition & Recipes for Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Hypertension or high blood pressure affects a quarter of the American population and accounts for over $10 billion a year in medical costs for physician office visits and prescription drugs. This condition is known as the “silent killer” because it is rarely accompanied by any symptoms.
When the heart beats, blood is pushed through the arteries carrying nutrients and oxygen to the organs. The force of that flow is blood pressure. Blood pressure is considered “high” when it registers above 120/80 for the average person (some people with chronic conditions may have an average blood pressure reading higher than the norm – for example, 130/90, etc.). The first number represents “systolic” pressure, which is pressure that results from the contraction of the heart. The second number indicates “diastolic” pressure, which is the pressure when the heart is at rest. While both these numbers are significant, it is important to know that a high systolic number is indicative of higher risk of heart disease.
Who’s at Risk?
High blood pressure is a major risk factor that can lead to heart attacks and strokes (in fact, it is the single most serious risk factor for a stroke!), arteriosclerosis, kidney disease, brain damage, and heart failure. Some people are predisposed to hypertension, such as those with a family history of the condition and African Americans. The process of aging also makes us more susceptible to elevated blood pressure. But there are several other risk factors that are controllable, such as smoking, obesity, stress, a sedentary lifestyle, and high intakes of caffeine, sodium and alcohol. The good news is that high blood pressure can be well managed through diet and lifestyle changes.
The Salt Dilemma
It’s important to understand the role of sodium (salt) in hypertension. Sodium alone does not cause high blood pressure. However, a critical relationship exists between sodium and another important mineral, potassium. In order for blood pressure to remain at good levels these minerals must be in suitable proportion to one another. Simply put, you must consume more potassium than you do sodium. Eating foods that are high in potassium while reducing the amount of salt in your diet will go a long way in helping lower your blood pressure. One strategy to lessen your salt consumption is to freely use seaweed, spices and herbs when preparing meals, thereby relying less on salt for flavoring. Remember to eat fresh, whole food out of the package, as often as possible, as canned and pre-packaged foods tend to have high sodium contents.
Turning things around
Hypertension has been managed effectively through diet and lifestyle practices. By doing so you may actually reverse your risk of heart disease.
Following these simple steps will get you started:
- Increase the amount of water-soluble dietary fiber to 30 grams per day in your diet by eating 6-8 servings of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Include legumes, and raw, unsalted seeds and nuts in the diet
- Choose foods that are high in potassium, such as avocados, bananas, oranges, seaweed, asparagus, potatoes, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and apples
- Reduce the amount of saturated animal fat in the diet by choosing lean, hormone free cuts of meat, poultry and fish
- Include 2-3 servings per day of foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as cold-water fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, and halibut), flaxseed oil and walnuts
- Avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that produce trans fatty acids – such as margarine
- Decrease the amount of salt in the diet – avoid adding salt to your meals at the table
- Reduce the consumption of alcohol and caffeine to one serving per day of each
- Increase physical activity – be sure to consult with a qualified fitness trainer or exercise physiologist before you begin any new exercise regimen
- Consult with a nutrition consultant to discuss supplemental vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, potassium and the B vitamins.
- If you are on medications and take dietary supplements or herbs, let both your doctor and nutrition consultant know of any changes.
- Monitor your blood pressure at home and record the findings.
Recipe for Hypertensive Health
This salad is packed full of ingredients that will help regulate blood pressure. It’s always a crowd-pleaser! Organic ingredients are recommended.
- 1 head of romaine lettuce
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 Fuji apple (or your favorite red variety)
- 1 oz. Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, approximately ¼ cup
- ¼ cup walnut pieces
Tear romaine lettuce into bite-size pieces. Core apple and cut into small chunks. Grate cheese. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
Dressing: blend the following and lightly dress the salad
- 4 Tablespoons walnut pieces
- 2 Tablespoons cider or red wine vinegar
- 6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp. basil, thyme or oregano
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
Combine all dressing ingredients in food processor or blender and whir until smooth. Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss. Serve immediately and enjoy!
For more assistance
Consider consulting with a certified dietitian or nutrition consultant for guidance regarding the use of herbs and dietary supplements to assist with lowering your blood pressure or for questions regarding drug-nutrient interactions.