Hypertension is defined as having high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the pressure or strength of your blood that is pushing against the side of your blood vessels. Making sure you understand what blood pressure is and how your diet can help maintain a normal level is key to leading a healthy lifestyle.

Normal blood pressure:

  • Systolic mm Hg (upper number): <120
  • Diastolic mm Hg (lower number): <80

Factors that affect blood pressure:

  • Salt intake/diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Stress/anxiety
  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use
  • Caffeine intake
  • Family history

Eating too much salt in your diet results in water retention – your body holds on to water. This extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure. Limiting the amount of sodium in your diet is one of the best ways to avoid high blood pressure.

How to limit sodium intake in your diet:

  • Limit eating out to as much as possible (salt is added when cooking)
  • Avoid using the salt shaker at home, including when cooking
  • Avoid/limit fried foods
  • Avoid packaged foods (tend to be higher in salt) such as pizza, bread, chips
  • Avoid/limit prepared meals
  • Frozen or prepared meals are easy and convenient. If you choose to have frozen prepared meals, buy the option lowest in sodium by comparing the labels (<140 mg sodium per serving is considered low sodium – the closet to this you may find is 300 mg). Be sure to watch your sodium intake the rest of the day.
  • When buying canned products, look for “No Salt Added” on label or “Low Sodium”
  • When looking at a nutrition label, a product is considered low sodium if it has <140 mg of sodium per serving
  • Try to limit sodium intake to 1500 – 2300 mg per day
  • Many spices can be high in sodium – try using salt free blends/spices such as Mrs. Dash
  • Avoid deli meats – or purchase “lower sodium” deli meats such as Boar’s Head Lower Sodium turkey
  • *Of note – just because the label says lower sodium does not mean they are healthy/low sodium choices. Lower sodium deli meats still have a good amount of sodium in them. Be extra aware of your sodium intake for the rest of the day.

Other Factors to take into consideration to help lower your blood pressure:

  • Avoid caffeine intake or limit to 1-2 C coffee/day
  • Limit alcohol intake to 1-2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women. Try to aim for this goal 1-2x/week, as opposed to daily.
  • One drink is equivalent to one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. glass of wine, 1.5 oz. 80-proof spirits or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits
  • The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week
  • Stress management and self-care routine
  • Potassium can help reduce blood pressure. Try eating more foods high in potassium, such as bananas or yogurt.

Setting small, short term goals to improve your diet is often the best way to make positive changes but all of this new information can still be overwhelming. Be sure to set reasonable expectations for changes to your diet so you don’t try to do too much at once.

How to set small, short term goals:

  1. Start with one or two days per week you choose to exercise and build your way up to 150 minutes weekly
  2. Start with what you feel comfortable doing for exercise, such as walking, yoga or zumba
  3. Start purchasing low sodium or not salt added products – although they may be slightly more expensive, this is an investment in your health
  4. Limit eating out and cook more at home (avoid adding salt or using salt shaker at meals)

Behavioral Therapy Services at Behavioral Nutrition are available to those who are having trouble finding a healthy diet that works for them and sticking to them. Our nutritional therapists use a holistic approach so patients can find what works best for them. Practicing good eating habits will help you feel healthier and continue to eat food that’s good for you. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help.