Keeping your blood pressure and weight in check may reduce your risk for a host of potential health problems down the road — from diabetes to heart disease. If your blood pressure is too high, changing your diet and losing a little weight just might be the ticket to lowering it.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when the force of blood against the walls of your arteries gets too high and damages your body. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other serious health problems.
It is normal for blood pressure levels to go up and down. But if your blood pressure stays above the normal range most of the time, you may have prehypertension or high blood pressure.
Normal: 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg)
Prehypertension: 120-139/80-89 mmHg
High blood pressure: 140/90 mmHg and above
High blood pressure with diabetes or chronic kidney disease: 130/80 mmHg
Reducing Your Risk
You are less likely to develop prehypertension and high blood pressure if you maintain a healthy weight. A host of other healthy lifestyle habits can also reduce your risk:
- Don’t eat too much sodium (salt); a lower-sodium diet (less than a teaspoon a day) can result in lower blood pressure
- If you drink alcohol, do so moderately
- Get enough potassium in your diet
- Be physically active
- Quit smoking
Weight Loss Tips
If you carry too much weight, talk to your doctor about ways to lose some of it. Even a modest amount of weight loss may have an effect on your blood pressure.
- Exercise for about 30 minutes every day or on most days. Moderate exercise (brisk walking, biking, swimming) can help you lose weight and lower blood pressure, strengthen your heart, and prevent diabetes.
- Keep a food journal to keep track of what you eat. Many people don’t realize how many calories they consume every day. A food journal can help you figure out where you can cut back.
- Lose weight over time. A healthy weight loss is about 1 to 2 pounds per week. Losing weight this way will help you keep it off for good.
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a study by the National Institutes of Health on the effect that different food choices have on high blood pressure. The DASH diet is the result of this study — a diet that can significantly lower blood pressure even after just a couple of weeks.
The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, and low-fat dairy. These foods are high in nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber, and protein. The DASH diet is low in sodium, sugar, desserts, sweetened drinks, fats, and red and processed meats.
How to Do DASH
The DASH diet requires no special foods or recipes. To follow the DASH diet you simply have to have a certain number of daily servings from various food groups. The number of servings depends on the number of calories you eat, your age, and your activity level.
|Food Group||Daily servings for a 2000 Calorie Diet||Daily Servings for a 2600 Calorie Diet||Serving Sizes|
|Grains and grain products
(eat mostly whole grain foods each day)
|6 - 8||10-11||1 slice of bread
1 oz dry cereal
½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal
|Vegetables||4-5||5-6||1 cup raw leafy vegetable
½ cup up cut-up raw or cooked vegetable
½ cup vegetable juice
|Fruits||4 - 5||5-6||1 medium fruit
¼ cup dried fruit
½ cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit
½ cup fruit juice
|Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products||2 - 3||3
||1 cup milk or yogurt
1 ½ ounces cheese
|Lean meats, fish, poultry||6 or less||6||1 oz cooked
|Nuts, seeds, and legumes||4 - 5 per week||1||1/3 cup or 1 ½ oz nuts
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 Tbsp or ½ oz seeds
½ cup cooked legumes (dry beans, peas)
|Fats and oils||2-3||3
||1 tsp soft margarine
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Tbsp salad dressing
|Sweets and added sugars||5 or less per week||2 or less
||1 Tbsp sugar1 Tbsp jelly or jam
½ cup sorbet
1 cup lemonade
Source: The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Tips to Lower Sodium
A lower sodium diet boosts the DASH diet’s effects by lowering your blood pressure even more. To lower the sodium in your diet, try these easy suggestions:
- Keep track of the sodium content in the foods you eat. Use a food journal to write down the food, serving size, and amount of sodium.
- Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day (less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day). Most people consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium through the food they eat — so it’s best to avoid adding extra salt when cooking or at the table. Ask your doctor if you should go lower to 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day.
- Read the nutritional facts label on every food package. The amount of sodium is listed on the label.
- Select foods that have 5% or less of the daily value of sodium (this percentage is listed on the nutritional facts label).
- Avoid foods that have 20% or more daily value of sodium.
- Avoid canned foods (unless labeled low-sodium), processed foods, lunch meats, and fast foods.
- Use salt-free seasonings in food preparation.