Did you know that losing excess weight is the most effective way in which to lower your blood pressure? Yes, it's even more effective than medication.
Some studies have found that, for every kilogram of weight lost, a drop of 2,5 mm Hg in systolic and 1,5 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure can be expected.
A body mass index (BMI) of more than 25 is considered overweight.
Smart food choices
The word "diet" signals deprivation to many people. However, adopting a healthy eating plan can be very rewarding. Plus, it's quite easy:
- Opt for low-fat, high-fibre food, including whole grains and legumes.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to supply your body with other crucial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
- Choose low-fat dairy products and experiment with lean meat, like ostrich.
- Eat more fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, that contains omega-3 oils. These protect the heart.
Eat less salt
Many people are highly sensitive to salt (sodium chloride), which leads to a rise in blood pressure.
Try to limit your intake to 6g (one teaspoon) of sodium chloride per day. Do this by adding less salt during cooking and adding no salt to food at the table. Importantly, try to avoid processed food, which is generally packed with sodium.
Salt is also bad news for your kidneys - one of the target organs that can be damaged by hypertension and vascular disease.
Get more potassium
Potassium replaces and eliminates excess sodium in the body. This, in turn, reduces blood pressure in salt-sensitive people.
Potassium can be found in potatoes, nuts, bananas and other fruit. Increase your intake of this heart-friendly mineral.
Regular drinking, especially heavy drinking, can raise your blood pressure.
Men with high blood pressure should limit their intake to no more than two drinks per day, while women should drink no more than one drink a day.
Although still much debated, coffee produces a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure - also in people who don't suffer from high blood pressure.
If you have hypertension, it would be wise to avoid the repeated elevations in blood pressure associated with coffee. Try to have no more than one cup a day.
Blood lipids – bad fats
High cholesterol, especially the "bad fats" like LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, cause damage to the lining of the arteries. These fatty deposits, called plaques, partially obstruct and reduce flow through the blood vessels.
High HDL cholesterol, however, seems to play a protective role. Diet and lifestyle changes are very important, and sometimes lipid-lowering drugs are necessary. Try to reduce your intake of animal fats (e.g. butter and red meat), and eat more fatty fish and healthy plant fats (e.g. avocado and canola oil).
- (Dr Kathleen Coetzee, MBChB)