High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, affecting 1 in every 3 adults. High blood pressure is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can lead to heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. For most people, blood pressure can be controlled by making healthy diet and lifestyle choices.
Normal blood pressure is considered less than 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or more, and 120/80 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg is considered at-risk for high blood pressure.
Here are six steps for maintaining a healthy blood pressure naturally.
- Reduce sodium (salt) in your diet.
Most Americans eat a high-sodium diet, averaging 3,436 milligrams daily. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend an intake of 2,300 mg of sodium a day or less, which is about 1 teaspoon. However, the American Heart Association recommends an even lower level—1,500 mg/day. Here are some ways to reduce salt in your diet:
· Use a coarser salt with less sodium per teaspoon, like kosher salt or course-grain sea salt.
· Read labels on processed foods. Look for entrées with no more than 800 mg sodium per serving and snack foods with no more than 200 mg of sodium per serving.
· Reduce intake of the processed foods highest in sodium, things like deli meats, processed meats (like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs), canned soup and broth, canned vegetables and beans, pickles, soy sauce, ketchup, and bottled salad dressing. Look for low-sodium versions of these foods.
· Restaurant meals can be very high in sodium—as high as 4,000 mg of sodium per meal!
· Use citrus zest to replace salt! The zest of lemons, limes and grapefruits is very zingy and packed with flavor! It can replace salt in many recipes.
· Use fresh herbs! Similar to citrus zest, fresh herbs are packed with flavor. Adding fresh herbs to your marinades, dressing and soups can help reduce the amount of salt required by adding a big flavor punch.
- Eat a primarily plant-based diet, getting enough potassium.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was developed with research sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health and has been shown effective at lowering blood pressure without medication. The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and unsalted nuts.
This diet is high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and Vitamin D, all of which help to lessen the effect of sodium and help you maintain healthy blood vessels and blood pressure. Potassium is found in fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and fish. Potatoes are a great source of potassium. Magnesium is found in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and dry peas and beans. Good sources of calcium are dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese.
You can find a complete guide to following the DASH diet here.
- Get daily physical activity.
Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger, meaning you heart can pump more blood with less effort, lessening the force on your arteries and lowering your blood pressure. Get at least 30 minutes of a moderate-level activity every day. You don’t have to do the activity all at once! If you are short on time, divide the 30 minutes into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each.
- Reduce or control stress.
Stress can make blood pressure go up for a short period of time, but the long-term effects of stress on blood pressure are not clear. Stress management techniques do not seem to prevent high blood pressure. However, such techniques may have other benefits, such as making you feel better or helping you to control over-eating.
- Don’t smoke.
Smoking injures blood vessel walls. And really, do you need us to list all of the reasons not to smoke?
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight increases your risk for having high blood pressure. Blood pressure generally increases as body weight increases. Losing even 10 pounds can lower blood pressure, and it has the greatest effect for those who are overweight and already have high blood pressure.
To help you with increasing the fruits and vegetables in your diet, here is an easy recipe for fruit salad. Bananas are a good source of potassium, and bonus points if you top your fruit salad with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt—also a good potassium source!
To help you with increasing the fruits and vegetables in your diet (and show you the power of citrus zest!), here is an easy recipe for fruit salad. Bananas are a good source of potassium, and bonus points if you top your fruit salad with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt—also a good potassium source!
Citrus Zest Fruit Salad
2 grapefruits, cut into slices
2 oranges, cut into slices
1 pint strawberries, stemmed and sliced
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries
2 bananas, sliced
Zest and juice of one lime
Add all of the ingredients to a large bowl and toss gently. Serve immediately with a dollop of Greek yogurt.