High blood pressure (hypertension) is a serious health problem. In North Carolina, an estimated one million people are affected. Each year, thousands die prematurely from this disease and related illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
What is blood pressure?
With each beat, your heart pumps blood through your blood vessels. The force or pressure against artery walls that this pumping action causes is called blood pressure. Without this pressure, blood will not circulate throughout the body.
When your blood pressure is measured, you are given two numbers. The first one — the systolic pressure — measures the pressure in the blood vessel when the heart pumps. The second number — the diastolic pressure — measures the pressure in the blood vessel when the heart is resting between beats.
A blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg, was once considered normal for an adult 18 to 45 years old. However, now 120/80 is considered prehypertensive. Should you worry if your blood pressure is 120/80 or higher? An occasional high reading may not be anything to cause concern.
If your blood pressure goes up and stays high, you should see your doctor.
How can hypertension be prevented?
Blood pressure is influenced by heredity, race, body weight, level of exercise, cigarette smoking, psychological stress, and diet. You can’t change your heredity or race, but you can change the rest. Your choices can make a difference!
Health professionals recommend the following:
1. Maintain Ideal Weight.
Hypertension is twice as common among overweight persons. Generally, if you lose extra weight, your blood pressure will drop. While the reasons behind this are not well understood, several possibilities exist. One is that extra weight places an added burden on the heart because the volume of blood increases as your size increases. Another is that overweight people may develop problems with the body’s ability to use glucose. When this happens, excess glucose and insulin are found in the bloodstream. Excess glucose and insulin are thought to raise blood pressure.
A healthy weight loss program includes cutting back on calories while eating a balanced diet. Adjust calories to lose weight gradually — no more than 1 to 2 pounds a week. If you also exercise you will lose weight more effectively.
2. Control Salt Intake.
Because the relationship between salt consumption and blood pressure is direct and progressive, people should reduce their salt intake as much as possible. While sodium and chloride are found naturally in many foods, salt is the main source of both. Salt is 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. Therefore, cutting back on salt consumption will reduce sodium and chloride intake. Both sodium and chloride are essential nutrients but you need very little of each every day. You can consume enough naturally from fresh foods (without added salt) to meet your needs.
Health professional suggest that a “safe and adequate” range of daily sodium intake is between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams (mgs). This is equal to the amount of sodium in 1/4 to about 1 1/8 teaspoons of salt.
If you want to lower your salt (sodium and chloride) intake, there are several changes that can be made. The following are recommended.
— At the table add salt sparingly or not at all.
— Cook with less salt or no salt. Learn to use spices, herbs, and other seasonings to flavor food. You may want to buy and use a low-sodium cookbook.
— Read labels to determine the amount of sodium per serving in the product. Select low-salt items or plan to balance your daily intake to an amount equal to or less than the limit set by your doctor.
— Be aware of any products that have salt, brine, soda or sodium as part of an ingredient name.
— Salt substitutes may be useful, but ask a doctor first. Substitutes may be harmful if you have certain medical conditions.
– Drinking water may be a hidden source of sodium. A water softener can add as much as 100 mgs of sodium per liter of water. Health professionals suggest that drinking water not contain more than 20 mgs of sodium per liter.
3. Eat Foods That Contain Plenty of Potassium.
A proper sodium-to-potassium balance is important in controlling blood pressure. There is evidence that increased potassium intake lowers blood pressure. Studies also show that potassium counteracts the blood pressure raising effects of salt. Potassium is abundant in the food supply and a balanced diet supplies enough for general needs. Excessive amounts such as are found in potassium supplements and salt substitutes should be avoided because of potential harmful affects. Do not prescribe these for yourself. If you doctor tells you to increase your dietary intake of potassium:
— Eat more fruits and vegetables (especially bananas, cantaloupes, oranges, tomatoes, dried beans, and peas).
— Choose unprocessed or lightly processed foods. Food processing often decreases the levels of potassium. For example, a medium-sized potato (100 g) contains about 503 mgs of potassium, but that same amount of potato made into chips contains only 364 mgs.
— Read labels and choose the brand that is higher in potassium.
Some diuretics (“water pills”) cause potassium to be excreted from your body. If you are taking a diuretic, your doctor may prescribe a potassium supplement.
4. Don’t Drink Too Much Alcohol.
One of the most common causes of hypertension in the United States is excessive alcohol consumption. This hypertension is completely reversible. Stop heavy drinking and blood pressure goes down.
5. Moderate Caffeine Consumption.
Caffeine can cause short-term rises in blood pressure which should not be a problem unless you are hypertensive. The most common sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, chocolate, cola beverages, and a variety of over-the-counter and prescription drugs (such as stimulants, pain relievers, diuretics, cold remedies, and weight-control aids).
If you have questions or are concerned about your blood pressure readings, please contact your doctor.
Source: Colorado Cooperative Extension, American Heart Association
Blondies with Chips
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
In a small bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Whisk the egg, oil honey and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Batter will be thick. Spread into an 8 inch square baking dish coated with nonstick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack.
Sandra R. Cain is the extension agent in Bladen County.