May is High Blood Pressure Education Month, and one in three Americans have it. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading risk factor for stroke and is often referred to as the “silent killer”, since you may feel no apparent symptoms. Yet high blood pressure will cause damage to the blood vessels, brain and heart over time.

Blood pressure consists of a top number (systolic) and a bottom number (diastolic). Normal systolic pressure is around 120, and normal diastolic pressure is less than 80 (this is expressed as “120 over 80” or 120/80).

Your goal is to keep those numbers under control. Some people may be diagnosed with high blood pressure without having any other risk factors for heart disease, but it’s still beneficial to make as many positive lifestyle changes as you can. Rather than “go on a diet”, it’s best to choose a dietary plan that is well evidenced, and that is reasonable enough to sustain for a lifetime. Eating for better health is not a one-month or one-season deal – it’s a lifetime deal. 

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Lose weight if overweight.
  • Exercise at least 4-5 days a week, for 30 minutes or more.
  • Add more activity to your daily life (take the stairs, do yard work, walk more, move more)
  • Use a journal to track your eating and exercise habits.

Follow the DASH Diet:

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables – make them half your plate! 

    Adding more DASH-friendly foods is easier than you think. This salad includes field greens, yellow and red tomatoes, low fat cottage cheese, and sunflower seeds. Delicious!

  • Include low fat dairy daily
  • Limit salt, and reduce processed foods high in sodium (1500-2300 milligrams a day is recommended) – read labels.
  • Drink more water and limit sugary beverages – sugar doesn’t cause high blood pressure, but since sugary drinks contain no nutrients, limit them. [One research study correlated a high sugar diet with heart disease, but it is likely that the overall quality of the diet is more important.]
  • Add healthy fats to your diet (olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds) – in small amounts

Take control of your blood pressure this month: Talk to your doctor about your heart health and blood pressure. Follow up for regular appointments as directed, and ask for a referral to a registered dietitian.