Keep the pressure down – top tips on diet & blood pressure with guest expert Jemma O’Hanlon APDExpert Examiner — By Emma Stirling on May 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm
Despite all the nutrition news that comes across our desk and Twitter accounts like this new AWASH Salt and Men’s Health Key Findings Report , we know that it’s important to reinforce the tried and true too. Those tips and hints for a healthy lifestyle that matter, right now, today. That’s one of the aims of our Expert Examiner category. We’re just back from our annual conference where salt was still a major topic. So this post we have a practical guide to diet and blood pressure and some exciting news about a new recipe makeover blogging project, you will love.
Jemma O’Hanlon is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Accredited Nutritionist (AN) and the Senior Dietitian for Sodexo Australia. Jemma is a true foodie, she loves eating, sleeping, dreaming and loving food, hence the name of her nutrition blog which aims to inspire people to maintain a healthy lifestyle through good food and good nutrition. You can check out some of the delicious meals Jemma whips up on her facebook page (she’s a master chef in her own kitchen) and follow her on twitter @JemmaOHanlon.
How high is your blood pressure?
A close friend of mine recently told me that her doctor was concerned about her blood pressure. Not such a nice thing to be told, considering high blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of a heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. But as I told my friend, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the world did not have to end. There are a number of things that she, and you can do if your blood pressure is a little higher than it should be.
Firstly let’s talk about the things that you can’t change. Unfortunately having high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) can be hereditary. So if it’s in your genes then you already have a much higher risk of getting it. But the good news is that there are also a number of things that you can change.
Before I go any further, do me a favour and do this quick quiz for me. All you have to do is answer yes or no.
- Do you smoke?
- Do you have high cholesterol?
- Are you overweight?
- Do you have diabetes?
If you answered yes to any of these, your risk of having high blood pressure is automatically higher. So it’s definitely worth your while to have a word with your doctor or dietitian about some strategies you can implement to reduce your risk.
What is classed as ‘high’?
According to the Heart Foundation, there are no set rules around defining what high blood pressure is. There are however some numbers to guide you, and they are:
- Normal blood pressure: generally less than 120/80 mmHg
- Normal to high blood pressure: higher than 120/80 but lower than 140/90 mmHg.
- High blood pressure: 140/90 mmHg or higher. If your blood pressure is 180/110 mmHg or higher, you have very high blood pressure.
Do you know what your blood pressure is? If you don’t, I suggest you find out. Get it checked regularly by your doctor.
What can I do to lower my blood pressure?
This certainly does not take place of the advice you would receive from your doctor, but here are my tips to get you on the right track:
- Quit smoking (for information on quitting smoking, call 13 QUIT)
- If you are overweight, seek the advice of a dietitian in order to help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
- Be active in as many ways as you can. Try to incorporate 30 minutes of moderate physical activity into your day on most days of the week. But go easy if you’re just getting started and talk to you health professional. Some exercises such as lifting heavy weights may not be suitable.
- Stress less. Seek out yoga and meditation exercises and hang with people who have a positive vibe.
How should I modify my diet to lower my blood pressure?
The key mineral in your diet that you need to reduce is salt (also known as sodium). Check out this table on foods to cut down on and foods to enjoy when reducing your salt intake.
A couple of things to note on salt:
- Most commercial sauces and gravies are high in salt. Cut down with salt in homemade and instead use herbs and spices in your food.
- Most things in a packet will have added salt. This is because salt acts as a preservative (think about the olden days and how they used to preserve meat). Try to avoid eating a lot of packaged foods. By cooking from scratch, you know exactly what ingredients go into your meal and you can control how much salt is in it.
- The same applies for canned food. Most canned and packaged foods now come with salt reduced or no added salt varieties – choose these!
- Processed meats, such as sausages, bacon, prosciutto and salami are all high in salt. Go for alternate sources of protein like an egg or lean chicken breast for everyday.
- Fast food is often riddled with salt. Cut out the fast food and start eating fresh food. Set yourself a guideline and stick to it – like only eating fast food once a fortnight.
- Throw out the salt shaker, and use pepper only at the table.
- When looking at nutrition panel, choose foods with less than 120mg sodium per 100g (for an excellent choice) or less than 400mg sodium per 100g (for a good choice).
Limiting your alcohol intake will also help to reduce your blood pressure. You know the rule, limit your bevies to no more than two standard drinks a day, and have 2 alcohol free days a week. And no you’re not allowed to add up the days that you don’t drink and make up for it on the weekend!
Finally, eat a wide variety of healthy foods. This includes plenty of plant-based foods like vegetables, legumes (dried peas, dried beans and lentils) and fruit. Eat moderate amounts of lean meats (not the processed ones mentioned above), poultry, fish and reduced fat dairy products, and moderate amounts of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat (found in avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish).
In summary, high blood pressure can be a silent killer. Often we get little symptoms and it can creep up on you without you knowing it if you don’t get it checked regularly. And even though some of us may have nasty genes which place us at a higher risk, there are also a number of things that we can do that are in our control. Eating a diet low in salt and being active can reduce your risk significantly. So on that note, I’m off to the gym. What will you do to reduce your risk?
Editor’s note: Thanks Jemma, it’s great to see another Aussie dietitian blogger. On that note, I’m excited to announce that The Scoop on Nutrition is a member of the brand new The Recipe ReDux - first and only recipe challenge founded by registered dietitians. The Recipe ReDux is focused on taking delicious dishes, keeping them delicious, but making them better for you. Dietitians Regan Jones, Serena Ball and Deanna Segrave-Daly founded the group on the belief that healthier eating should always taste delicious. As the Latin term “redux” means to revisit or reinvent, we are reinventing the idea of healthy eating with a taste-first approach. We aim to inspire the food lover in every healthy eater and inspire the healthy eater in every food lover. So stay tuned for launch on June 21.