Blood pressure is the B of the diabetes ABCs. Your circulatory system is something like the waterlines that run through your town or city, pushing water through large and small pipes with enough pressure for you to have an invigorating shower. Your arteries, veins, and tiny capillaries deliver materials, like glucose and oxygen, to cells all over your body under the pressure provided when your powerful heart muscle contracts.
Water pressure is measured in pounds per square inch, but your blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury with a sphygmomanometer, and you may have seen devices that actually have a tube of mercury. Blood pressure always includes two numbers — your systolic pressure over your diastolic pressure.
The systolic pressure is the pressure against the wall of your arteries when your heart pumps. The diastolic pressure is the pressure in your arteries between heart beats. A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, and the target blood pressure for people with diabetes is 130/80 or lower.
high blood pressure, when blood pressure measures 140/90 or higher most of the time, is called hypertension, and hypertension is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and kidney failure. These are many of the same problems that can be caused by diabetes, too, so high blood pressure added to diabetes is a real double whammy.
It’s likely that your doctor will prescribe medication to help control your high blood pressure if you have diabetes. However, just as lifestyle choices play a major role in managing diabetes, those same choices can have a major impact in improving your blood pressure. Exercise, not smoking, and what you choose to eat make a real difference.
The effectiveness of eating habits to reduce high blood pressure has been most effectively demonstrated in clinical trials conducted by the National Institutes of Health beginning in 1992. From those studies came an eating plan known as DASH — dietary approaches to stop hypertension — and following the DASH eating plan clearly has a direct impact in improving blood pressure.
The main ideas behind the plan are perfectly consistent with managing blood glucose — DASH concepts can fit into your diabetes eating plan. The main highlights of the DASH eating plan as follows:
The DASH plan emphasizes lots of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and low-fat dairy products to maximize your intake of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. DASH limits meat consumption to 6 ounces of lean protein per day.
The DASH plan limits dietary sodium, and the more effective follow-up to original DASH studies found that a daily goal of no more than 1,500 milligrams lowered blood pressure even more. Not surprisingly, this is the same maximum sodium intake recommended for anyone with diabetes.
Of course, your use of the salt shaker adds sodium to your diet, so replacing salt with other spices is one key to reducing blood pressure with diet. But, the real secret to limiting sodium is to read nutrition facts labels, because most dietary sodium is likely to come as added salt from prepackaged or canned foods. Look for no-salt-added packaged foods.
Grains, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy should definitely be part of your diabetes meal plan, but except for the nonstarchy vegetables and cheese these foods are carbohydrates. That doesn’t mean you should avoid these foods — it means make these whole foods your mealtime carbohydrate choices, to control your blood glucose and your blood pressure all at once.
Remember that nonstarchy vegetables are both incredibly healthy and very low in carbohydrate. Including lots of nonstarchy vegetables in your meal planning keeps you healthy and full.