According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and kidney disease.
The CDC defines a normal blood pressure 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 a physician and follow a heart healthy diet, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. A balanced DASH eating plan based on 1,600 to 2,600 calories per day would 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 fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- 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
- 3 to 5 servings per week of nuts, seeds and legumes
- Limited amounts of sweets and added sugars — 5 or fewer servings per week.
Sodium intake should be reduced to 2,300 milligrams per day for individuals 14 years of age and older. Adults with prehypertension and hypertension may benefit from reducing their sodium intake further. Lowering sodium intake can be especially beneficial in combination with the DASH eating plan. And, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, research has shown a direct relationship between sodium intake and blood pressure, and decreasing sodium intake "can help improve blood pressure control and reduce risk of hypertension"
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 such as tomatoes, beans and oranges.
Consider planning at least two meatless or vegetarian dinners per week with beans as the main source of protein. Experiment with fresh herbs and dried 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 eating plan, which can add great sources of protein, iron, zinc and the B vitamins. Finally, add variety by snacking on fresh vegetables with bean dip or eat salsa in place of other condiments with your scrambled eggs, on a baked potato or with vegetables.
The bottom line in lowering blood pressure is to follow a heart healthy eating plan, maintain a healthy weight and increase physical activity. Consult a registered dietitian nutritionist to start combating high blood pressure and for guidance regarding healthier food choices.