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High Blood Pressure and Eating to a Healthier You

High blood pressure or hypertension, also known as the silent killer, is a dangerous disease that affects nearly 73 million adults over the age of 20 in the United States. This represents one out of every three adults.1 Many live with this disease and do not know it. There are two main types of high blood pressure: essential (primary) and secondary high blood pressure.Essential high blood pressure is responsible for 90 to 95 percent of those who suffer from high blood pressure, and secondary high blood pressure comprises 5 to 10 percent. The cause of essential hypertension is unknown, whereas secondary hypertension is caused by known diseases or conditions. Various causes of secondary high blood pressure include kidney problems, tumors or cancer of the adrenal glands, heart defects from birth, medications such as oral contraceptives, cold remedies, certain over the counter drugs, and illegal drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines.

It is important to know if you have high blood pressure because according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), a US federal government agency that researches and investigates disease clusters and outbreaks, high blood pressure is the most modifiable risk factor for heart disease and stroke – the first and third leading causes of death in North America, respectively.2 Other complications of high blood pressure include aneurysms, which are bulging, weakened blood vessels that can rupture and be life threatening; heart failure, due to the progressive difficulty of the heart to pump blood to the body against an increased pressure in the body’s blood vessels; poor kidney function, which makes it difficult for the body to rid itself of excess fluid and wastes; visual loss, due to a decrease in the blood flow to the eyes; and changes in your ability to think, learn, and remember things clearly.

To prevent or control high blood pressure, you can use medications prescribed by your physician, as well as adopt various healthy lifestyle habits. According to the American Heart Association, a national voluntary health agency, it is encouraged that you limit your alcohol consumption to no more than 1-2 drinks per day, or less than 3 to 4 ounces of 80-proof alcohol. It is also important that you stop smoking, decrease your salt intake, manage your stress by exercise or other pleasurable activities, and commit to moderate to vigorous exercise at least 30 minutes per day for most or all days of the week. 3 You should also discuss the use of oral contraceptives or other medications with your physician. A healthier diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain high fiber products, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, legumes, poultry, and omega-3 containing fish is also recommended. Examples of omega-3 containing fish include salmon, trout, and herring.

Decreasing your risk of high blood pressure is not as difficult as many believe it to be. This article will address simple methods that you can use to reduce your weight by controlling the amount of food that you eat in one sitting, at home or at a restaurant, and how to decrease the consumption of foods that are not filling or nutritious, yet high in calories.

Maybe you or someone who you know has been on many weight loss programs, diets, and exercise routines. Weight reduction can be one of the most challenging methods to control high blood pressure. To judge your body weight and the amount of body fat that you have, it is important to know your Body Mass Index. This is a ratio that compares your weight to your height. You can be placed in one of five categories from underweight (BMI<18.5), normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9), overweight (BMI 25-29.9), obese (BMI 30-39.9), and morbidly obese (BMI > 40). It is important to know which category you fall into, especially if you are not an athlete, body builder, or pregnant. If you are overweight or obese, excessive body fat can put you at greater risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, strokes, diabetes, and other health conditions in addition to high blood pressure. Awareness of your BMI, control of your meal portion sizes, and a monitor of the calorie content and quality of the food that you eat will start you on the path to decreasing your weight and reducing your risk of high blood pressure. Quality foods include a diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Your physician can help you better determine your BMI and the weight category that you fall into.

Have you ever wondered how the fast food that you eat and drink, especially soda, French fries, salty snacks, and hamburgers, contributes to your weight gain? According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), during the past several decades fast food consumption has increased due to an increase in Americans’ work hours. 6 Over the past three decades, married couples on average have worked an additional 20 hours per week, and 75 percent of all women are in the labor force today. As a result, more Americans eat out because they are unable to cook at home. From 1993 to 2001, the overall percentage of US dollars spent on fast food has increased from 38 percent to 42 percent. At least one in four American adults report eating fast food.6 With an increase in fast food sales, the portion size calorie content of American fast foods has increased as well. According to the Nationwide Food Consumption (1977) & Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals (CSFII) from 1989 to 1996-1998, typical fast foods such as soft drinks have increased an average of 49 calories per serving; French fries,68 calories per serving increase; salty snacks, 93 calories per serving increase; and hamburgers,97 calories per serving increase. 7

But what is a calorie? This is the amount of energy found in the foods that you eat. Specifically, for every gram of fat, there are approximately 8 calories, and for carbohydrates and protein, 4 calories per gram. More simply, every pound of body fat contains around 3500 calories or 454 grams. Although the number of recommended daily calories necessary for every individual varies depending on gender, age, height, weight, and level of activity, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is recommended that based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, adults over the age of nineteen consume 20 to 35% of their daily total calories in fat, 10-35% in protein, and 45 to 65% in carbohydrates.8 You must consume fewer calories than recommended per day to lose weight.

Knowing the number of calories that you have to lose just to shed one pound of body fat, may make losing weight and reducing your risk of obesity and high blood pressure seem more difficult. Many individuals find it challenging to lose weight based upon their portion size or the amount of food that they consume at one sitting, as well. Studies have also shown that when offered foods such as pasta entrees at restaurants or popcorn at movie theaters, Americans tend to eat larger portions of food. However, a2002 study released by the CDC’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity – Research to Practice Series No. 2, reported that men and women of normal and overweight BMIs report similar levels of hunger and fullness in a 500 gram, low calorie portion diet versus a 1000 gram, high calorie portion diet. 7 Therefore, depending on how you eat (i.e. - slow versus fast) and what you eat (i.e. – more fiber and nutrient rich foods versus high calorie, less nutrient rich foods), on a lower calorie diet you can feel satisfied with your food and not have an increased appetite, no matter your weight. You can also avoid an increased portion size caloric intake by splitting an entrée with a friend; asking for a “to-go” bag when dining out; assessing the right amount of food that would satisfy you versus making you feel full; controlling the food in your environment by dividing up package sizes as soon as you get it; eating small healthy snacks throughout the day as opposed to having a heavy meal at dinner or night time; snacking on small cups or containers of food, versus and entire bag, to decrease your portion size; and storing excess and highly tempting foods on high shelves or in other “out of sight” and “out of mind” areas.7

To control your weight and reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, it is important that you know the amount of calories in the volume of food that you eat. This is known as energy density. Energy density categorizes foods into low (0.7 to 1.5 cal/g), medium (1.5 to 4 cal/g), and high (4 to 9 cal/g) energy density.According to the CDC’s Division of Nutrition & Physical Activity – Research to Practice Series No.1, food exists in low to high energy density categories. Low energy density foods, include fruits and vegetables, broth-based soups, fat free cottage cheese, fat free yogurt, and roasted turkey without skin. Medium energy density foods include foods such as hard boiled eggs, dried fruit, bagels, broiled lean sirloin steak, hummus, grape jelly, whole wheat bread, and part-skim mozzarella. High energy density foods consist of fatty foods such as crackers, cookies, butter, and bacon.9 Though many Americans find high energy density foods appealing and eat until feeling full, you do not have to eat that way. You can eat low energy density foods, and in turn, consume fewer calories per day, reduce your weight, and still feel satisfied without excessive hunger. A low energy density diet, as opposed to an unhealthy, fat-filled high energy density diet, helps to reduce your risk of high blood pressure by decreasing your likelihood of being overweight or obese. Drinking more water, and increasing the fiber in your diet with more fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce your high energy density food consumption as well. The next time you shop for yourself or your family, simply read the nutriton fact labels on packages. This will make you more aware of the calories, serving size, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, and protein percentage of the food that you eat.

With healthy nutrition and regular exercise as indicated above, high blood pressure can be prevented in many cases. If one is already diagnosed with high blood pressure, such a healthy lifestyle will complement the pharmacological prescription from a physician to control it.


1)Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2008 Update. Texas: American Heart Association, 2008.


2)National Center for Health Statistics. Atlanta: Center for Disease Control andPrevention, 2009.


3)Lichtenstein, AH,Appel, LJ, Brands, M, et al. Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation 2006;114;82-96.


4)Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, Cushman WC, Green LA, Izzo JL Jr, et al. Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Hypertension 2003; 42:1206–1252.


5)National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2008 with chartbook. Hyattsville, MD: 2009.


6)Bowman, SA, and Vinyard, BT. Fast Food Consumption of U.S. Adults: Impact on Energy and Nutrient Intakes and Overweight Status. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 23, No. 2, 163–168 (2004).


7)Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. Research to Practice Series No. 2:

Portion Size. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006.


8)Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008.


9)Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. Research to Practice Series No. 1. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006.


Article By: Frank A. Evans, Jr.

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