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Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits: How to Eat to Lower Your Blood Pressure

separator A new analysis has shown that more people than ever in this country have high blood pressure, or hypertension. According to the most recent study, data gathered from 1999 to 2000 showed that there are now 65 million hypertensive adults in the US, compared with data from 1988 to 1994, which found about 50 million adults with hypertension.

Why does this increase matter?

Hypertension is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure. 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.

The role of sodium in decreasing high blood pressure
Another part of blood pressure control is a food plan that limits sodium, or salt.  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 per ounce Usually more than 300 milligrams
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 as

  • 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.

The Food and Drug Administration; Hypertension, August 2004; The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Association, “Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure.”
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