High blood pressure is also called hypertension. Two factors contribute to high blood pressure: the quantity of blood your heart pumps and how narrow your arteries are. High blood pressure raises your risk of heart problems and strokes. Most people have no symptoms, so the best way to detect it is to get screened during a checkup at your doctor’s office at least every year. If you do have high blood pressure, there are some dietary and lifestyle changes that can help you lower your blood pressure.
Lower your sodium intake.
Many people eat as much as 3,500 mg of sodium per day. The DASH diet, which is short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Sodium is in salt, so the best way to reduce your sodium intake is to eat less salt. You can do this by:
- Not adding table salt to your food. This may also include reducing the amount of salt you use when cooking. Easy ways to do this include not salting meats and not adding salt to the water when you cook rice or pasta.
- Avoiding salty snacks and processed food such as chips, pretzels, and salted nuts. They often have large amounts of salt added to them. If you do purchase prepared foods, look to see if you can get a low-salt version. Check the contents of canned food, premixed seasonings, bouillon cubes, canned soups, jerkies, and sports drinks to see if they have salt added to them.
Eat six to eight servings of grains per day.
Whole grains are better than processed white rice or processed white flour because they have more fibre and nutrients. A serving is a slice of bread or half a cup of cooked rice or pasta. You can eat more whole grains by:
- Buying whole wheat flour and pasta instead of white. Many whole wheat bread products will say on the packaging that they are whole wheat.
- Oatmeal and brown rice are also excellent sources of nutrients and fibre.
Load up on fruits and vegetables.
You should eat four to five servings of fruit and four to five servings of vegetables each day. A serving is half a cup of leafy vegetables or a ½ cup of cooked vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of potassium and magnesium which help to lower your blood pressure. Excellent ways to get your fruits and vegetables include:
- Eating salads with your meals. You can keep them interesting by varying what you put in them. You can add a sweet element by putting apple or orange slices on a salad. Leave on the peels of thin-skinned fruits like apples because they also contain nutrients. You can also go more traditional with fresh greens, carrots, and tomatoes. But go easy on the salad dressings: they often have a lot of salt and fatty oils.
- Making vegetables a side dish. Instead of cooking pasta, try putting the main dish over a sweet potato or next to a side of squash.
- Snacking on fruits and vegetables between meals. Take an apple, banana, carrot, cucumber or green pepper with you to work or school.
- Buying fresh and frozen vegetables. If you are worried about having fresh produce go bad before you eat it, frozen vegetables are an excellent choice. You can put them in the freezer until you need them and when you thaw them, they will still be packed with nutrients.