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    Archive for the ‘blood pressure’ Category

    Numbers Game: Answer

    nurse taking blood pressureCardiovascular disease risk doubles for every 10-point increase in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) and every 20-point increase in systolic blood pressure (the top number).

    This serves as a perfect reminder of the domino effect of poor health.

    It also illustrates why maintaining a healthy weight is important.  It deeply frustrates me when people argue that weight gain should not be demonized, and that all body shapes should be accepted.

    I certainly back up that argument from a social and body-image standpoint.  No one should be made to feel inferior — by others as well as themselves — because of their waist size.  The fact that you’re ten or fifteen pounds overweight doesn’t negate the fact that you can be — and feel — sexy.

    From a health standpoint, however, getting rid of excess weight is crucial.

    Not only does excess weight increase cellular inflammation (THE most important factor behind the development of a number of degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease), it also sets off a chain of symptoms and conditions.

    Excess weight increases blood pressure, lowers HDL cholesterol levels, and increase LDL cholesterol levels, thereby increasing cardiovascular disease risk.

    It also increases arthritis risk and puts excessive force on joints, often making exercise painful and difficult (thereby creating a powerful barrier against regular exercise).


    Numbers Game: The Pressured Heart

    high-diastolic-blood-pressure-and-high-systolic-blood-pressureCardiovascular disease risk doubles for every ____-point increase in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) and every _____-point increase in systolic blood pressure (the top number).

    Source: World Health Organization

    a) 10/20
    b) 15/5
    c) 5/10
    d) 20/15

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Tuesday for the answer.


    You Ask, I Answer: Salt Substitutes

    alsosalt_2089_9549707Thank you so much for all the information you share with us on your blog.  I have learned so much over the past few months.

    Last month, after my doctor said my blood pressure was higher than it should be, I followed your advice and kept a record of how much sodium I was eating [on a daily basis].  I definitely need to cut down.

    What do you think of salt substitutes?  One of my nieces mentioned I need to be careful since they can cause kidney problems.  Is that true?

    — Melody (Last name withheld)
    Tucson, AZ

    No, it is not true.

    Let’s start from the beginning, though.

    Most salt substitutes are made from potassium chloride, which taints them with an unpleasant aftertaste.

    I have tried various different brands, and the only one that truly does a good job of replicating the flavor of salt is AlsoSalt.

    Salt replacers can not only help lower sodium intake, but also increase potassium consumption.

    Remember — increasing potassium intake is just as important as lowering sodium consumption to manage — and prevent — hypertension.  Unfortunately, the average American consumers more sodium and less potassium than recommended on a daily basis.

    There are two concerns with salt substitutes, though.

    Anyone diagnosed with kidney or liver disorders (or who is on any sort of medication for those conditions and/or cardiac ones) can NOT consume salt substitutes since the potassium content can have life-threatening consequences.

    While healthy individuals can consume these products safely, I still recommend training the palate to get used to flavors other than salt.  Otherwise, you will simply continue to crave foods high in sodium.

    I would recommend, for example, replacing half of the salt in a recipe with a salt substitute and then using spices to make up for that other fifty percent.

    Spices are a wonderful way to add flavor — as well as health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants — to any meal.  Experiment with ground ginger, cumin, curry powder, thyme, rosemary, oregano, paprika, and other delicious varieties.

    To clarify your niece’s concerns — salt substitutes do not cause kidney problems.  As stated above, though, they will certainly worsen any existing renal conditions.

    I have to say, though, that I doubt the salt shaker is the main culprit of your high sodium consumption.

    One of the most effective ways to keep your intake in check is to limit processed foods in your diet and choose whole, minimally processed — or, even better, unprocessed — foods whenever possible.

    Keep in mind, too, that while these salt substitutes are high in potassium, you should try to get as much potassium as possible from whole foods.  That way, you will also get fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and many other nutrients (i.e.: magnesium and calcium) that help maintain blood pressure within healthy ranges.


    In The News: Blood Pressure Just Says "No" To Drugs

    The New York Times is reporting that “high blood pressure is becoming increasingly resistant to drugs that lower it.”

    Which begs the question — why pop pills when you can just… eat?

    Blood pressure is one of those conditions that I don’t think is taken as seriously as it should be.

    Everyone runs around with their cardiac health in mind, forgetting that high blood pressure is just as serious.

    After all, “starting at a blood pressure of 115/80, research shows that the risk of a heart attack or stroke doubles with every 20-point increase of systolic pressure, the top number, or 10-point increase of diastolic pressure, the bottom number.”

    As someone who is aware of the therapeutic power of nutrition, it is very frustrating to see people spend so much money on these medications (not to mention put such a strain on some organs) when they could begin to tackle the problem with dietary management.

    Consider this eye-popping example:

    “Pat J. Dixon, 58, a nurse in Atlanta, takes five medications to lower her blood pressure. In many ways, Ms. Dixon is typical of a patient who develops resistant hypertension. At 5 feet and 172 pounds, she is obese, and her weight gain has caused mild Type 2 diabetes, for which she takes yet another drug. The diabetes is an extra strain on the kidneys, in turn worsening her blood pressure.”

    From a nutrition perspective, several nutrients are valuable tools in normalizing blood pressure.

    First, sodium consumption should be kept to no more than 2,300 milligrams a day.

    The best way to prevent excessive sodium intakes is to cut back on frozen, pickled, smoked, and canned foods.

    In the case of canned beans, for example, opt for low-sodium varieties or rinse standard varieties for 10 to 15 seconds to remove excess sodium.

    Potassium and magnesium are two minerals that are also crucial for blood pressure regulation.

    Interestingly enough, the more processed a food, the higher the sodium content and the lower the potassium.

    Consider these two examples:

    A 3-ounce broiled porkchop contains 46 milligrams of sodium, whereas 3 ounces of ham pack in 1,117.

    A medium baked potato contains a meager 8 milligrams of sodium, whereas a side of mashed potatoes at Kentucky Fried Chicken adds up to 360 milligrams!

    Hence, the less processed the diet, the lower in sodium and higher in potassium.

    Magnesium, meanwhile, is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and some varieties of fish.

    Research has also shown a definitive link between calcium and blood pressure regulation — yet another reason to make sure you are getting enough of the “bone mineral.”

    Food can have such an impact on blood pressure regulation that there is an actual eating plan specifically formulated for it: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)


    In The News: A Diabetes Dilemma?

    Oh boy.

    The New York Times is reporting on a diabetes study that has been abruptly halted due to a much-higher than expected participant death rate among those most carefully controlling their blood sugar levels.

    The “major federal study… found that lowering blood sugar actually increased… risk of death,” the article explains.

    “The findings inject an element of uncertainty into what has been dogma — that the lower the blood sugar the better and that lowering blood sugar levels to normal saves lives,” it continues.

    This is a perfect example of a study finding being misconstrued.

    Let’s consider a few facts.

    The average participant was 62 years old, had been living with diabetes for approximately 10 years, and also had other conditions, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

    Patients were randomly assigned one of three treatments — controlling blood sugar, controlling cholesterol, and controlling blood pressure.

    The group strictly controlling only blood sugar had a higher death rate. The cause behind most of them? Heart disease.

    It annoys me that this could be erroneously interpreted, wrongly accusing blood sugar monitoring of increasing one’s risk of dying of heart disease.

    It is clear that when it comes to diabetes, blood glucose levels must be carefully monitored and tracked.

    It is by no means unsafe; in fact, consistent, strict monitoring is encouraged.

    I spoke with New York University clinical nutrition assistant professor Lisa Sasson about this study.

    She agrees that the study might be misconstrued and people living with diabetes might wrongly start questioning the importance of controlling their blood sugar.

    In reality, they should be considering the bigger picture of the study and its subjects.

    If these people were strictly controlling only their blood sugar, it is very likely that to compensate for certain foods they were restricting, they were consuming calories from salty or fatty foods that exacerbated the other conditions,” she says.

    Sasson thinks the issue isn’t that controlling blood sugar leads to death, but rather that concentrating on only one of many health conditions is too narrow of a focus.

    Sasson expressed some frustration with the state of research. “I wish that the bulk of research would focus more on prevention. With a lot of these conditions — diabetes, cancer, heart disease — the key is prevention. Once you have them, it’s a real problem.”


    Numbers Game: Answer

    According to research by the American Cancer Society, 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent of cancer deaths in women could be prevented simply by weight maintenance.

    Being overweight needs to be viewed not from an aesthetics angle, but as a health hazard.

    From a nutrition standpoint, I cringe when I hear obese people proudly stating they are at peace with their bodies and have no desire to conform to society’s standards.

    Although I find the pressure on women to be a size zero (while men can tip the scales at any weight without much disapproval) absolutely heinous, a healthy weight goes beyond vanity. Keeping off the pounds significantly decreases your risk of developing strokes, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers.


    All-Star of the Day: Corn

    When cooked properly, corn is a nutrition all-star offering a wealth of nutrients.

    A cup of cooked corn (or one large ear, in barbecue terms) provides 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, 20 percent of the daily requirement for folate, as much potassium as a medium banana, and 15 percent of our phosphorus and magnesium needs.

    The combination of folate, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium make corn a great defender against heart disease and high blood pressure.

    Research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that once law required folate be added to bread products, deaths caused by heart attacks dropped significantly.

    Obviously, folate is abundant naturally in fruits and vegetables, and corn is one heart-healthy friend.

    Even better, recent research suggests a link between meeting one’s daily folate needs and decreasing risk of colon cancer by as much as 20 percent!

    What many people fail to realize is that corn is a whole grain, meaning it provides many of the same health benefits attributed to oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa, and whole wheat products.

    Among these – a healthy dose of magnesium, a crucial mineral for bone growth and maintenance.

    Phosphorus, meanwhile, is the behind-the-scenes player helping our kidneys get rid of waste and is also necessary to keep our nervous system in check and running.

    Additionally, research shows whole grains help stabilize blood sugar levels!

    Potassium-rich foods such as corn also help counter the dangerous effects of too much sodium on our blood pressure.

    The healthiest way to eat corn is grilled or popped. Yes, popcorn (especially in an air popper) is an immensely healthy snack. Hold the butter and spice it up with some salt-free chili powder or cinnamon for a low-fat, fiber-rich afternoon treat.


    The Power of (Dark) Chocolate

    Dark chocolate lovers: rejoice! After detailing the antioxidant properties it contains — especially when made of 70 or 85% cocoa — I now have more exciting news to share.

    Two recent studies — one published in the August 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and another in the August 2005 issue of Hypertension research journal — concluded that three and a half ounces of dark chocolate every day for two weeks was enough to warrant a ten percent drop in blood pressure of participants!

    Allow me to be a party pooper for one paragraph. Three and a half ounces of dark chocolate provide 550 calories and alone surpasses our maximum recommended amount of artery-clogging and bad-cholesterol-raising saturated fat.

    Although the media loves to publish results of studies like these and make pretend chocolate is now a health food, the truth isn’t that simple.

    If you are concerned about your blood pressure, try keeping it in check by eating fresh fruits and vegetables as well as raw nuts and seeds and low or non-fat dairy products. These foods are high in potassium, a mineral that does its part in keeping blood pressure within normal ranges.

    Now, if you are a healthy dark chocolate lover who has three ounces of it A WEEK along with daily servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat animal products, I certainly won’t stop you.


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