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Can Foods Lower Blood Pressure?


Most Americans today either have hypertension, pre-hypertension or will develop it as they age.  And while most of us know that sodium in the diet increases our blood pressure, many do not know that there are other minerals that lower our blood pressure, namely potassium, calcium and magnesium.

If your blood pressure has begun to creep up, then it is time to make lifestyle changes.  In fact if you don’t, you will eventually have to take medication, which is not the end of the world of course.  But learning to eat healthy foods and adding daily activity is much less expensive and more fun.

If you are overweight, losing just 10 pounds could lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of 6 points.  By adding 30 minutes a day of walking and simply leaving off desserts, you could reach that goal.  Eating a small apple before meals can help reduce overeating.

But let’s look at the food sources of these health promoting minerals.  Potassium is widely distributed in vegetables and fruits and is especially high in tomatoes, bananas, oranges, potatoes, greens, beans and peas.  It is recommended to get 11 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  At first, this seems overwhelming until one learns that a serving is ½ cup.  

Let’s translate this into a day’s meals.  Orange juice with breakfast (1 serving); Two vegetables with lunch (1 cup each = 4 servings); Two vegetables with supper (Same as before 4 - ½cups = 4 servings); Banana as an afternoon snack; Berries on your breakfast cereal or as a snack after supper.  This adds up to 11 servings.  This example makes obvious that to reach the 11 serving recommendation, we need to focus on fruits and veggies every meal.

Magnesium is found in whole grains like cereals, wheat bread and brown rice.  We need about 4 servings a day.  The best place to start is cereal for breakfast; with whole wheat toast you have 2 servings and you have room for pasta at lunch and a wheat roll at supper.  Remember to focus on whole grains to get magnesium.

Skim or low fat milk is a great source of calcium, potassium and magnesium.  Aim for two cups a day.  Lean meats, poultry and fish are good sources of potassium and magnesium but they also contain generous amounts of sodium.  So learn to ration your meat portions and be generous with the fruits and vegetables.  

When we look more closely at healthy recommendations, it’s not hard to see why we may be short on blood pressure lowering minerals.  A diet that focuses on vegetables, fruits and whole grains with skim dairy products will improve blood pressure and support weight loss.

If you take medication for hypertension, it is very important to take your medication according to your doctor’s prescription.  If you start adding foods high in potassium, calcium and magnesium, it is reasonable to expect some reduction in blood pressure.  Inform your doctor that you are taking steps to improve your diet and ask him if you can lower your medication dose.  Never adjust your medicines without consulting your doctor.

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin.  The Polk Center provides individual and group education on diabetes, weight loss and heart disease; monthly classes on healthy cooking; and monthly support groups in Lufkin and Livingston.  In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations where dietitian Tim Scallon teams up with Chef Mani Marini to demonstrate that healthy eating can taste great.  The show can be seen on cable in 46 cities and on the Memorial web site at http://www.memorialhealth.org.  

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