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We recently recognised World Hypertension Day, so there is no better time to talk about hypertension and how you can avoid it. To get started it’s probably useful first to talk about what defines hypertension.

hypertension and the dash diet

Hypertension is simply another way of saying high blood pressure, which is a measure of the pressure the blood applies on the walls of your arteries as it travels around the body. Hypertension is estimated to affect more than a billion people worldwide. It causes many health problems and it is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, dementia, and kidney failure amongst many other serious ailments. Luckily though, as diet is such a big factor, it is for most people relatively easy to manage or even avoid altogether.

Common Causes of Hypertension

As we all know, the best medicine is prevention, and with hypertension, this is no different. So first we need to identify what the common causes of hypertension are. I think most of you will be unsurprised to hear that both smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol are both major contributing factors to high blood pressure. People who are overweight or obese also have a higher risk of developing hypertension, as do those who do not get much physical exercise. Stress is certainly another lifestyle factor which can increase blood pressure, and genes and a familial disposition towards high blood pressure are will also increase your chances of developing issues, especially later in life.

Unfortunately, not all of these factors can be changed or controlled, but when talking about high blood pressure, diet is not only extremely important, but is one thing we can at least manage ourselves.

So what foods cause high blood pressure in the first place? Well, lots of things, but mainly salt: the explosion in hypertension in the western world has been linked to the increased levels of sodium in our diets. Luckily though, this is one thing which is easily managed. So if any of your relatives have suffered from hypertension and/or you’re worried about your blood pressure, now might be the time to start thinking about your lifestyle and your diet.

Symptoms of Hypertension

One of the things that make high blood pressure so dangerous is that the majority of people who have it don’t know they are suffering from it, as symptoms tend to become apparent only when it is very severe. It is estimated that up to a third of people with high blood pressure are unaware they might be at any risk. So regular check-ups are important, especially if you have relatives who are known to have hypertension or have suffered a stroke or other related health issues.

If your blood pressure is extremely high, there may be certain symptoms to look out for. Among the more worrying high blood pressure symptoms are dizziness, severe headaches, fatigue or confusion, vision problems, chest pain, difficulty breathing or irregular heartbeat. These are all signs you are at high risk of heart attack or stroke, as is blood in the urine. You should also be concerned if you experience pounding in your chest, neck, or ears. If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms then consult your doctor immediately.

If you are not experiencing any of the more severe symptoms but are worried that you might be at risk due to your lifestyle or family history, now is the time to take action! After all, you don’t want to wait until you’ve suffered a major health setback to start making changes. A dietitian can help you manage hypertension symptoms through a healthy diet. You might be surprised and relieved to know that proper nutrition can help lower high blood pressure, and even with relatively easy changes to diet alone, you can greatly decrease your risk of hypertension and the associated health problems.

DASH Diet to Lower High Blood Pressure

So if you’re worried about your health, you might now be wondering what diet is best for high blood pressure? Luckily, due to the scale of the problem worldwide, legions of doctors and researchers have already figured this one out, and they came up with the DASH Diet. If you are thinking about how you can bring your blood pressure down naturally, this is the approach for you.

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a diet recommended for people who want to prevent or treat hypertension and reduce their risk of heart disease and other associated health risks. It has been developed by doctors as a lifelong approach to eating which can reduce the risk of, and manage, hypertension.

The diet was created after researchers noticed that high blood pressure was much less common in vegans and vegetarians; therefore, the DASH diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. While containing some lean protein sources like chicken, fish and beans, the diet is low in red meat, salt, added sugars and fat. There are two versions of the diet, based on the level of sodium allowed: the regular program should include no more than one teaspoon of salt per day, whereas the lower salt version should include no more than ¾ teaspoon.

Although meal planning is a complicated business, the breakdowns below give a rough idea of daily or weekly intakes.

  • Grains - 6 to 8 servings a day

  • Vegetables - 4 to 5 servings a day

  • Fruits - 4 to 5 servings a day

  • Dairy - 2 to 3 servings a day

  • Lean meat, poultry and fish - 6 servings or fewer a day

  • Nuts, seeds and legumes - 4 to 5 servings a week

  • Sweets - 5 servings or fewer a week

Many people also ask if drinking lots of water can lower blood pressure, and thankfully this is also a factor. When there is not enough water in blood our bodies will retain sodium instead: which as we’ve already covered quite extensively, is the one thing we definitely want less of.

A Dietitian Can Help Manage Blood Pressure

By properly managing the intake of salt, as well as red meats and sugars, and staying properly hydrated, you can greatly reduce the risk of hypertension and related health problems. But managing this over time can admittedly be a complicated business, as not all of us have the know-how to properly balance our diets as we should. That’s why seeing a dietitian could be such a great boost to your health and wellbeing. If you’re worried about hypertension, call Full Circle Wellness on 07 5456 1599 today and see if on our talented dietitian, Kristie Pieters, can help.

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