Nutrition key to help control blood pressure
Published 10:36 am Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Many people assume that foregoing table salt is the simplest and surest way to control their blood pressure. Granted, it's a good first step according to Dr. Robert Keith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System nutrition and health specialist and professor of nutrition and food science at Auburn University.
There is, after all, a strong link between higher sodium diets and high blood pressure - a fact borne out in other parts of the world, especially in some Asian countries, where higher sodium consumption is linked with higher rates of hypertension. Studies have shown that reducing sodium in processed foods, home cooking and table use could result in a 10-point decrease in systolic pressure, one of the two scores that make up your overall blood pressure reading.
Even so, like most first steps, reducing table salt intake will only take you so far. A possibly even bigger contributor is obesity. Scientists have long stressed the high correlation between obesity and hypertension, especially in cases where obesity is associated with large amounts of abdominal fat.
Indeed, considering the strong link between obesity and hypertension, it's easy to understand why there has been such a steep hike in hypertension among Americans in recent years. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and the enormously high levels of hypertension among the population appear to follow this trend closely. Roughly 25 percent of the adult U.S. population suffers from high blood pressure - a problem even more widespread among the elderly, of whom 50 percent are sufferers. Simply put, the heavier we become, the more prone we are to hypertension.
Nutrient intake also figures into the picture. Doctors have known for a long time that potassium, widely available in fresh fruits and vegetables, is a major player in blood pressure reduction. Consuming potassium-rich fresh fruits and vegetables at least five times a day, while reducing sodium intake, often results in a significant reduction in blood pressure.
Even people willing to go half the distance by increasing their intake of dietary potassium can reap huge benefits. Just remember that there's a big distinction between fresh vegetables and canned vegetables, which tend to be high in sodium and low in potassium. For instance, a cup of fresh peas may contain several hundred milligrams of potassium and almost no sodium at all. On the other hand, if you use canned peas instead, you may get the just the opposite.
Rounding out the story is calcium, another key ingredient associated with lower rates of hypertension. Studies have shown that people who fail to consume sufficient amounts of dietary calcium face a higher risk of developing hypertension.
Keith says to remember to go light on the table salt, heavy on fruits and vegetables and nonfat dairy. Heeding this advice, coupled with weight control and regular exercise, will go a long way toward helping you manage your blood pressure.