Nutrition Notes: High blood pressure

There’s more to controlling blood pressure than simply taking pills and cutting sodium intake. Whether your goal is treating high blood pressure or preventing it, many diet and lifestyle choices also have an impact. Here are a few changes that can have a significant impact on your blood pressure:

1. Maintain a healthy weight. Weight control may actually be one of the strongest influences on blood pressure. By maintaining a healthy weight, you could lower your blood pressure 5 to 20 mmHg, according to a recent government report. Even without reaching an ideal weight range, many overweight people can lower their blood pressure by losing 10% of their body weight. For weight loss and an eating style that lowers blood pressure, consider the DASH diet. This plan emphasizes plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, while encouraging a moderate use of low-fat dairy products and limited amounts of lean meats. Studies show that the DASH plan can lower blood pressure from 8 to 14 mmHg.

2. Get more potassium and magnesium. These minerals are abundant in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. A low intake of the minerals may be related to eight to 25% of high blood pressure cases. Calcium also seems to aid blood pressure control.

3. Restrict sodium. Studies of the DASH diet with and without limiting sodium clearly show the benefit of limiting it. Some people appear more sensitive to sodium than others, but restricting sodium to 2,300 mg per day or less could drop blood pressure at least 2 to 8 mmHg. Canned soups and sauces, boxed dinner-mix products, frozen meals, snack foods and even cereals contain a lot of salt and sodium-based ingredients. Staying under the 1,500 mg sodium limit requires using these products wisely.

4. Exercise regularly. Aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week will result in a blood pressure drop of 4 to 9 mmHg and greater weight control. Actually, for optimal weight control and greater health protection, you should push for an hour a day.

5. Limit alcohol and coffee. Blood pressure can fall another 2 to 4 mmHg by limiting alcohol consumption. Women should have no more than one standard-sized drink per day, and men no more than two. Many physicians suggest that people with high blood pressure limit their caffeine to 200 mg (two six-ounce cups of coffee) per day.

Although blood pressure can usually be controlled with medicine, these medications can affect quality of life and interact adversely with other medications or chronic conditions.

“Nutrition Notes” is provided as a public service by the American Institute for Cancer Research, 1759 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009