Want to decrease your risk of getting a heart attack? Then include more fruit and veggies in your diet, start exercising regularly, limit your alcohol and salt intake and don’t forget to eat that occasional helping of dark chocolate.
This will lower your risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and ultimately your risk of heart disease.
Hypertension affects approximately one billion people worldwide and just about 3,3 million South Africans. It's known as "the silent killer" because it’s usually symptomless until damage is done to the heart and other organs.
The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked regularly - and if you do have it, your doctor may prescribe medication.
Although genetics play a role in blood-pressure variability, diet and lifestyle factors exert considerable influence in blood pressure regulation.
Weight loss crucial
The importance of weight loss in bringing down blood pressure cannot be overemphasised, according to an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The researchers found that losing only 5kg can have a significant effect on blood pressure. However, what's even more important is the way in which you lose the weight.
For a comparable 5kg weight loss, a diet high in fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products resulted in a greater decrease in blood pressure than did a low-fat diet.
Thumbs-up for veggie diets
Other researchers have confirmed that vegetarian diets or a diet high in fruit and vegetables can lower the blood pressure. Vegetarian diets are high in fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
As a result, they contribute relatively high polyunsaturated and low saturated fats to the diet, are relatively low in total fat and have a high potassium, magnesium and fibre content.
The protective effect of these foods are likely to be mediated by their tendency to reduce body weight and modulate blood viscosity along with other blood pressure lowering properties of individual nutrients. These foods are colourful and can add a lot of variety to any eating plan.
More good news is that you can add another item to your grocery list. It has also been found that dark, but not white or milk, chocolate decreases blood pressure.
– (Martie de Wet, Registered Dietician, updated May 2008)
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