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High Blood Pressure: It’s Not Just About Salt
It’s often called the silent killer. Twenty percent of the adult population suffers from it,
and the problem tends to be most severe in the southeastern United States. Yet, there are
usually no symptoms associated with the disease, and millions don’t even know they have it.
If left untreated, it can lead to stroke, kidney failure and even death.
This silent killer is high blood pressure (a blood pressure reading greater that
140/90). High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a serious health problem that must
be corrected. That is why every American who is at risk of high blood pressure should be
periodically screened for the disease.
Most people think salt is the sole cause of high blood pressure. But while salt intake
from foods such as pickles, canned vegetables, processed meats and cheese is a major
factor in hypertension, it is only one of several lifestyle factors that contribute to the disease.
Obesity may be an even bigger contributor among some people than salt intake. The
good news is that even modest decreases in body weight, as low as 5 or 10 pounds, can
result in significant reductions in blood pressure.
High fruit and vegetable diets also can lower high blood pressure. However, canned
and other highly processed vegetables are not as good as fresh produce because salt is
added and potassium is taken away.
Low intakes of two minerals, potassium and magnesium, are also associated with
high blood pressure. These two minerals are found in adequate amounts in fresh and frozen
fruits and vegetables and fruit and vegetable juices – another reason why experts encourage
consumers to eat five servings a day of fruits and vegetables through the “Five-a-day”
Calcium deficiency is a major contributor to osteoporosis, a crippling bone disease. It also
may be a factor in high blood pressure. Some people, in fact, are calcium-sensitive
hypertensives, meaning they develop high blood pressure because they don’t have enough
calcium in their diets. Studies have shown that adding low-fat milk, yogurt, some cheeses
and other dairy products will help reduce pressure in some people who have this condition.
Non-dietary factors also contribute to high blood pressure. A sedentary lifestyle is
high on the list. Experts have known for a long time that walking, jogging and riding a bicycle
can reduce blood pressure. Indeed, far fewer people with physically active lifestyles suffer
from high blood pressure.
And then there is cigarette smoking, bad for the lungs, but also a major cause of high
blood pressure.
The bottom line: never overlook the role lifestyle plays in high blood pressure.
If you want to cover all the bases to lower your blood pressure, then get your weight
and body fat levels under control and increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and lowfat dairy products.
By all means, quit smoking and develop a physically active lifestyle.
And while you’re thinking about it, why not start today?
Written by: Dr. Bob Keith
Nutrition Specialist
Alabama Cooperative Extension System