In America, 67 million adults are quietly living with high blood pressure – that’s one in every three adults. Approximately 30 percent of American adults have pre-hypertension –a condition that puts them at great risk of developing high blood pressure.
It’s a practically invisible disease with a few subtle symptoms. And even after you’ve been diagnosed, it can seem pretty harmless and easy to ignore. But, if not properly cared for, its progressive effects can put you at risk for heart disease, stroke even kidney disease.
African-Americans develop high blood pressure more often, and at an earlier age, than whites and Mexican-Americans. More African-American women have high blood pressure than African-American men and they have higher rates of hospitalization.
What causes high blood pressure? Research shows that high salt and sodium intake plus low potassium intake – due to not eating enough fruits and vegetables – and excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to developing high blood pressure.
DASH to a better diet
For that reason, lifestyle changes such as those in the DASH eating plan have been shown to significantly help control high blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. In fact, the DASH eating plan is recognized as the diet of choice for preventing and managing high blood pressure in African-Americans. The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products, and is low in fats and cholesterol.
Theoretically, DASH should be an easy fix. But according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center, DASH is easier said than done – at least for African Americans. In a recent study, Duke researchers were interested in determining what factors predicted who would adhere to the DASH eating plan. African-American participants in the study were less likely than white participants to follow the DASH eating plan.
Why? Because traditional African-American food choices and cooking methods weren’t taken into consideration. The good news is, if you can’t phantom the idea of giving up your traditional food there are still steps you can take to lower sodium in your diet.
How Salt Makes you Fat
Ditching the salt shaker is an obvious and great first step, however “contrary to popular belief, the salt shaker is the least of your worries,” says Marisa Moore, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In fact, “77 percent of sodium in the diet comes from packaged and restaurant foods,” she adds.
According to Tammy and Lyssie Lakatos, authors of The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat, processed meat, frozen pizza and Chinese food are the worst offenders when it comes to making your blood pressure go up. And that’s not all. “Salt makes you hungrier, thirstier and it increases cravings.
Plus, it seems that [salt] may cause your fat cells to hold more fat,” says the Lakatos, also known as the Nutrition Twins. Reducing sodium is as good for your waistline as it is for your blood pressure. So get started today!
The 8 Worst Foods
Processed meats: Any meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting or with the addition of chemical preservatives fit into this category, including ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs and luncheon meats.
“In a three-ounce serving of most of these meats it’s easy to swallow 1,200 mg of sodium,” says The Nutrition Twins. And if you have high blood pressure you’ve already almost met your daily quota for sodium, which should be less than 1,500 milligrams per day.
Advice: Steer clear of these meats or at least opt for reduce sodium varieties.
Frozen Pizza: “The combination of salty foods spells trouble for blood pressure. The dough, tomato sauce, cheese and then processed meats added on top can cause an individual serving of frozen pizza to clock in at close to 2400 mg sodium,” says The Nutrition Twins.
Advice: Make your own with low fat cheese, lean meat and extra veggies.
Chinese Food: The sauce in Chinese dishes is loaded with sodium. “ Something as innocent-sounding as Beef with Broccoli can have 3,752 mg sodium,” says The Nutrition Twins, and “that’s thanks to things used in the cooking like soy sauce and Teriyaki sauce that have about 1,000 mg of sodium in just a tablespoon.”
Nutrition Twin advice: Order your sauce on the side and use it sparingly.
Ready-to-eat boxed meals and side dishes: Along with the convenience comes a hefty dose of sodium. A 5-ounce frozen turkey and gravy dinner can have 787 milligrams of sodium. Half of a 16.5 ounce chicken pot pie can pack 800 milligrams of sodium.
Advice: Look for brands with less sodium.
Sugar-sweetened beverages: “We tend to associate excess sugar with higher blood sugar and diabetes” says Moore. “However, excess sugar intake has been linked to high blood pressure levels as well.”
Moore’s advice: Keep added sugars at a minimum. You can do this by avoiding sugary beverages like soft drinks, iced tea and fruit punch.
Canned and pickled vegetables and vegetable juice: While a great substitute when fresh is not available, canned and pickled vegetables are typically laden with preservatives or sauces and seasonings that add extra sodium. A cup of canned cream-style corn may contain 730 milligrams of sodium. Advice – read the nutrition facts panel. Look for descriptions such as “no salt added” and “reduced sodium.”
Bouillon, canned and instant soup: On average, a cup of canned chicken noodle soup contains as much as 760 milligrams of sodium. Eat the entire can — which makes two-and-a-half servings – and you’ll get 1,800 milligrams of sodium.
Advice: Look for brands with reduced-sodium or no salt added. For instant soup or oriental noodles, reduce the sodium by using half of the seasoning packet.
Canned Tomato Products and tomato juice: Canned tomato sauce and tomato juice are loaded with sodium. One cup of tomato juice contains 680 milligrams of sodium. One serving of spaghetti with meat sauce has over 1,300 milligrams of sodium.
Advice: Look for low or reduced sodium options.
May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, click here to learn more about high blood pressure and ways you can reduce sodium in your diet.
Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD is an award winning registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is the author of The African American Guide To Living Well With Diabetes and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes. Follow Brown-Riggs on twitter @eatingsoulfully.