A major reason for the increase in the number of people dealing everyday with lifestyle diseases such as hypertension is the food that we are consuming and the amount of stress in our lives. An additional factor that plays a role in this increase is the inactive lifestyle or lack of exercise. Hypertension creates enormous pressure on our internal organs and is associated with a high risk of cardiac failure, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
Simple modifications in our day today eating habits can go a long way in reducing the number of people suffering from high blood pressure, as a result decreasing the rate of mortality related to hypertension. These simple steps include reduction in calorie consumption, reduction in the consumption of saturated fats and processed food high in salt.
Risk Factors Associated with Hypertension
Major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases including hypertension are:
Excessive Sodium Intake
High amount of sodium in the diet increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Sodium is not just salt. Most of the processed food that we commonly consume are very high in sodium. This includes your favorite burgers and fries. A reduction of sodium intake leads to a dramatic reduction in chances of stroke and heart disease related deaths. According to WHO, our sodium intake must be limited to less than 2 gm per day.
Reduced Potassium Intake
Increase in consumption of potassium in our diet prevents hypertension and lowers the blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of cardiac arrhythmias and stroke. WHO recommends the ratio of sodium to potassium close to 1:1 in our daily diet. Most fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium.
Being overweight dramatically increases the risk of hypertension since it causes excessive strain on all our internal organs. Increase physical activity to keep your weight in check. Studies suggest we must aim to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) between18.5 and 24.9.
Dietary Modifications to Manage Hypertension
There are certain recommended diet plans to reduce hypertension. The most popular one is discussed below.
The DASH diet plan is aimed at lowering blood pressure without the use of medication. This is based on a research that was sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health. The key feature of this diet is that it is rich in fiber and other nutrients. It focuses on inclusion of foods that are rich in Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium.
Key goals of DASH diet are:
- Reduce sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day.
- Reduce saturated fat to no more than 6% of daily calories and total fat to 27% of daily calories.
- Consume fats in the form of monounsaturated fats, such as olive or canola oil, are a healthier fat choice.
- Prioritize whole grains over refined flour.
- Include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet since most of them are high in potassium and fiber.
- Daily diet must include a good amount of nuts, seeds, or legumes.
- Daily diet must include modest amounts of protein. Some good protein sources are soy products and fish.
- Limit carbohydrates to 55% of daily calories and dietary cholesterol to 150 mg.
A word of caution. Every individual has its unique dietary requirements on the basis of their lifestyle, work preference, and dietary preferences. Therefore, it is highly recommended to work with a nutritionist to chalk out a personal nutrition and diet plan that best fits your personal nutritional needs.