March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
About 1 in 3 U.S. adults has high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic (top) number of less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic (bottom) number of less than 80 mmHg. People with systolic readings of 120 to 139 mmHg and diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mmHg would be at risk for high blood pressure or could be told they have prehypertension. A diagnosis of high blood pressure is usually confirmed by a doctor after a patient has had more than one elevated reading, which, for most people, would be 140 mmHg or higher over 90 mmHg or higher.
People with high blood pressure should consult with a physician and follow a heart healthy diet, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. A balanced DASH diet based on 1,600 to 2,600 calories per day should include:
- 7 to 12 servings of fruits and vegetables
- 6 to 11 servings of grains — such as whole-wheat bread, pasta or pitas; oatmeal; brown rice
- 2 to 3 servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy products
- 3 to 5 servings per week of nuts, seeds and legumes
- 6 or fewer servings per day of lean meat, poultry and fish
- 2 to 3 servings per day of fats and oils — avoiding trans fat and lowering saturated fat intake
- 5 or fewer servings per week of sweets — for example, choose fat-free or low-fat options of sorbets, hard candy or cookies
Sodium intake should be reduced to 2,300 milligrams per day for individuals 14 years of age and older and gradually lowered to 1,500 milligrams per day. Lowering sodium intake can be especially beneficial. And, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, research has shown a direct relationship between sodium intake and blood pressure, and "every incremental decrease in sodium intake that moves toward recommended limits is encouraged."
To get an assortment of nutrients, eat a variety of colors and be adventurous in the produce section by choosing a colorful fruit or vegetable you have never tried before. You can also encourage your family to pick a new fruit or vegetable each time you shop, as well as including fruits and vegetables high in potassium.
Consider planning at least two meatless or vegetarian dinners per week with beans as the main source of protein. Good choices are rice and beans or hearty bean soups. Experiment with fresh herbs and spices instead of salt, choose whole-grain products and add nuts to salads, soups and cereal. Make sure to include lean meat, poultry and fish into your dietary plan, which can add great sources of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B. Finally, add variety by snacking on fresh vegetables with bean dip and eat salsa as a snack with your scrambled eggs, on a baked potato or with vegetables.
The bottom line in lowering blood pressure is to follow a heart healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and increase physical activity. Consult a registered dietitian nutritionist to start combating high blood pressure and for guidance on following a healthy diet.