High blood pressure, often called the “silent killer” has no warning signs or symptoms, and can often go unnoticed. About 1 of 3 adults in the United States has high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.
Regardless of race, age, or gender, anyone can develop high blood pressure. However, African Americans develop high blood pressure more often, severe, and at an earlier age, than whites and more African American women than men have the condition.
Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime. But it’s not all bad news. You can prevent and control high blood pressure by taking action.
A Powerful Force
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. When that force is too great, it hardens the walls of the arteries and can cause stroke and other life threatening conditions. Blood pressure readings are usually given as two numbers. The top number is called the systolic pressure (as the heart beats) and the bottom number is called the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). Blood pressure is measured in milligrams of mercury, or mmHg. For example a blood pressure of 120 over 80 – which is considered normal blood pressure, is written as 120/80 mmHg.
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is the term used by medical professionals to describe high blood pressure. You will be diagnosed with hypertension when your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or higher most of the time. If your blood pressure numbers fall between 120/80 and 140/90 that is called pre-hypertension.
“High blood pressure requires treatment and often times…one, two or sometimes three medications to control,” says Adeola Akindana, registered nurse and executive director of Health Beam Outreach Inc.
If you do not want to take medication, Akindana advises you to “talk seriously with your health care provider about lifestyle modification which may include modest weight loss, reduction of sodium, and regular exercise.” Left untreated or poorly managed High blood pressure can lead to death.
Lower Your Pressure with DASH
Research studies show that you can take steps to prevent – and manage high blood pressure by adopting a healthy lifestyle. These steps include maintaining a healthy weight; being physically active; following a healthy eating plan, that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy foods; choosing and preparing foods with less salt and sodium; and, if you drink alcoholic beverages, drinking in moderation.
The DASH diet – recently rated as top overall diet by US News & World Report, is rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, whole, grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. This heart healthy way of eating is also lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and rich in nutrients that are associated with lowering blood pressure—mainly potassium, magnesium, and calcium, protein, and fiber. The DASH diet “can work wonders for blood pressure,” says Marisa Moore, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Changing eating habits can be a challenge, and the thought of “seven plus different fruits and vegetables every day can leave you feeling overwhelmed,” says Moore. She helps her clients incorporate the DASH diet “one bite at a time with a focus on increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains throughout the day.”
Moore suggests these four easy tips to get started eating the DASH way.
- Opt for meatless meals every other night of the week.
- When trying to cut back on meat;
- Opt for stir fries that go heavy on veggies with no more than 3 ounces of chicken or lean meat. Stir fries are great reheated for the lunch the next day.
- Choose “meaty” vegetables like Portobello mushrooms and eggplant.
- Make salmon tacos complete with a citrusy cabbage slaw topping. Opt for a corn tortilla to sneak in a few more whole grains.
- Work wonders with beans. Make spicy pinto bean or black bean burgers. Enjoy black eyed peas and brown rice. You can even add beans to your taco filling to add fiber and protein.
- Breakfast is often a missed opportunity. Make the most of it by adding veggies to an omelet, stirring in mashed banana or pumpkin puree to oatmeal or blending spinach or kale into your morning smoothie.
Moore says “the DASH diet is a healthy way of eating for the whole family.” Click here for more details on the DASH diet. The number of servings you will need, from each food group in the DASH diet, depends on your calorie level, age and activity.