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Diabetes and Hypertension-Your Food Choices Can Help


More people than ever in this country have high blood pressure, or hypertension. According to a recent study, data gathered from 1999 to 2000 showed that there are now 65 million hypertensive adults in the U.S., compared with data from 1988 to 1994, which found about 50 million adults with hypertension.

Hypertension is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to the same problems. If you have both diabetes and high blood pressure, your risk of developing these other health conditions increases even more.

If you've been diagnosed with hypertension, it's important to work aggressively to bring your blood pressure down. If your doctor has prescribed medication for you, take that seriously. Stick with the drugs, and if for any reason you feel like you don't want to keep taking your pills, be sure to talk with your doctor about it. Don't ever stop medications on your own.

Regular exercise is also extremely important. It can help your body use insulin more efficiently, and in many cases, it can help to get your blood pressure under control.

Last but not least, diet is important. Don't forget that sodium plays an important role in blood pressure control.

The role of sodium in decreasing high blood pressure

There have been different opinions about whether eating too much salt actually causes high blood pressure, but many studies have shown that for people who already do have hypertension, decreasing salt intake is helpful.

How much salt should you have each day?

Here are some of the facts:

  • The daily recommendation for sodium intake for the average person is no more than 2,400 milligrams.
  • You really only need 500 milligrams to help your body carry out its basic functions.
  • The average American consumes about 3,000 to 5,000 milligrams of salt each day.
  • If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may have recommended keeping your daily salt intake under 1,500 milligrams

    Even if your doctor hasn't given you a precise number, there's a good chance you're getting too much sodium in your daily diet.

    What can you do to decrease the salt?

    When it comes to the sodium in your diet, it doesn't all come from the salt shaker. Most of the salt we get comes from processed foods-frozen dinners, packaged mixes, instant or flavored rices, pizza and many salad dressings.

    Here are examples of foods that have salt added to them during preparation:

    Canned soups and other canned foods - 850 milligrams per cup
    Cottage cheese - 459 milligrams per ½ cup
    Deli meats - Usually more than 300 milligrams per ounce
    Pretzels - 486 milligrams per ounce
    Sauerkraut - 780 milligrams per ½ cup
    Soy sauce - 304 milligrams per teaspoon
    Dill pickle, one large - 1,731 milligrams
    American cheese - 304 milligrams per ounce

    And don't forget the table salt. One teaspoon has 2,358 milligrams. The daily salt recommendation for the average person is no more than 2,400 milligrams, so pay attention to the amount of salt you're getting from the salt shaker alone.

    Buy food in its natural state

    If you want to reduce sodium, buy food that hasn't had much done to it, such

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Frozen vegetables with no salt added
  • Poultry, fish and lean meat that isn't canned or salted

    Cooking habits that can help

    Besides cutting out snacks and other high-sodium foods, it's helpful to make some changes in the way you cook:

  • Don't add salt when you cook rice, pasta, oatmeal, and other foods. Sometimes we add salt just because we always have. It might not even make much difference in the taste of your food if you leave some of the salt out.
  • If you do use canned food, such as tuna, rinse it off first to remove some of the sodium.
  • Experiment with herbs and other types of spices to find flavors that satisfy you.
  • Look for labels that say low- or reduced-sodium, or "no salt added."
  • Read the labels on breakfast cereals to find the ones that are lower in sodium.

    Get enough potassium

    Getting enough potassium can also help you meet your goal of lowering your blood pressure. Generally, if you're eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and strictly limiting foods that are high in sodium, you're likely to have a healthier sodium/potassium balance. And foods like that are good for diabetes too.

    The Food and Drug Administration Report on Hypertension; The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Association, "Your Guide to Lowering Hypertension"; The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders
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