In February we are reminded to consider our heart health. For those with, or at risk of, high blood pressure this can be especially important.
Blood pressure measures how hard your blood pushes against your artery walls as it moves through your body. Normally, your blood pressure rises and falls through the day, but if it consistently stays up, you may be diagnosed with high blood pressure (also called hypertension). A blood pressure level of 140/90 is considered high. Visit myhealth.alberta.ca for a breakdown of blood pressure levels and what they mean.
When blood pressure is high it starts to damage blood vessels and contributes to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. As the arteries stiffen, the heart has to work even harder, causing heart muscle to become thicker, weaker and less able to pump blood. Plus, damaged arteries are less able to deliver enough blood to organs for proper functioning, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or even kidney failure.
The cause of hypertension is hard to determine, but there are several known risk factors:
Changes to any of these factors, can help reduce the risk for high blood pressure. One of the best ways to lower risk is a change in diet. For example, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet focuses on foods that are high in calcium, potassium and magnesium and low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol. It recommends you eat whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods and reduce your consumption of fats, red meat, sweets, sugared beverages, and foods high in sodium.
Dairy – Low-fat dairy products like yogurt and milk are known to help lower blood pressure. In addition to being high in calcium, they are high in vitamin D, potassium, phosphorous, bioactive small peptides. They are also low in sodium and high in protein.
Flaxseed – Studies show that flaxseed reduces both systolic blood pressure (when the heart contracts) and diastolic blood pressure (when the heart relaxes) due to four important compounds: alpha linolenic acid, lignans, peptides and fibre. These compounds have beneficial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the cardiovascular system.
Dark chocolate – Polyphenols (especially flavanols) in cocoa products are associated with the formation of nitric oxide, a substance that widens blood vessels and eases blood flow – and thereby lowers blood pressure. It also contains calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Olive oil – Olive oil has been linked with drops in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Its polyphenols are antioxidants prevents LDL (the potentially harmful form of cholesterol) from oxidation, reducing its contribution to the development of atherosclerosis.
Beets – Beets are an excellent source of nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide within the body. Nitric oxide relaxes and dialtes blood vessels and dilates, helping the blood flow more easily and lowering blood pressure.
Pistachios – Pistachios contain monounsaturated fatty acids and high amounts of phytosterols, which reduce LDL cholesterol oxidization. In fact, healthy diets that include tree nuts have been shown to enhance the effectiveness of exercise and hyptertension medications, and may even result in lowering the dosage of some medications.
Pomegranate – Drinking a cup of pomegranate juice every day for four weeks was linked to a drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Certain flavonoids such as catechins, tannins, and ellagic acid in pomegranate juice have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which help lower blood pressure and reduce arterial plaque.
Fish – Fish is a good source of protein and low in saturated fat. It is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of arterial plaque, and help lower blood pressure.
Whole grains – Whole grains include the entire grain kernel and haven’t had their bran and germ removed by refining. They are a rich source of healthy nutrients, including fibre, potassium, magnesium, folate, iron and selenium. In particular, increasing your intake of potassium is linked to lower blood pressure. Plus, whole-grain foods are filling, which can aid in weight control.
Hibiscus – Hibiscus tea is loaded with antioxidants, including phenols and anthocyanins and it boosts nitric oxide production, which can help our arteries relax and dilate better.
Including any or all of these foods into your diet are a great start for a heart healthy lifestyle. However, the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends incorporating a healthy diet with physical activity for best results.
For more information on heart healthy diet tips and exercises, visit www.heartandstroke.ca
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