Keep Your Blood Pressure in Check with the Total Body Diet

By Victoria Shanta Retelny, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Low and high blood pressure readings are a red flag to talk with your healthcare provider. With the Total Body Diet, real food and lifestyle changes can help get your blood pressure under control.

Befriending potassium-rich foods

Do you ever think about getting enough potassium? Probably not. One of the major functions of this mineral is to keep blood pressure in check. Potassium works opposite to sodium (salt) — it helps to maintain the delicate fluid balance by allowing your kidneys to release water from the bloodstream, reversing sodium’s grip on your body’s water stores.

Natural, food sources of potassium are best. You need 4,700 mg per day, unless your kidneys are not functioning properly. In that case, consult with your healthcare provider.

Unless prescribed by your doctor, avoid potassium supplements — they can cause dangerous symptoms like irregular heart rhythm, low blood pressure, and even death.

Try these potassium all-stars:

  • Vegetables: Potatoes (with skin), sweet potatoes (with skin), spinach, zucchini, tomato, kale

  • Fruits: Avocado, banana, apricot, cantaloupe, orange

  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes: Soybeans, lentils, white beans, split almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, peanuts

  • Dairy products: Milk, yogurt

  • Meat and fish: Lean cuts of beef and pork, salmon, halibut, tuna

Limiting high-sodium foods

Sodium occurs in many foods naturally, and it’s also added to foods for a variety of reasons — from flavor enhancement to helping baked goods to rise to preserving and tenderizing meat and fish. However, too much sodium puts you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.

You can cut your sodium easily by doing the following:

  • Limiting highly processed foods: Eating fresh whole foods cuts back on salt significantly. When choosing minimally processed foods, be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label for sodium. Less than 5 percent of the Daily Value is low; greater than 20 percent of the Daily Value is high. A low-sodium food contains 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.

  • Dining out less: When you prepare your meals and snacks at home, you not only have greater control over the amount of sodium you eat, but also cut back on calories (and money!).

  • Using herbs and spices to flavor food: Instead of reaching for the salt shaker, use herbs and spices. If you’re using an herb or spice rub or blend, check the label because it may contain salt.

    Herbs and spices are a better alternative to decreasing salt than salt substitutes, which typically contain a lot of potassium chloride, which can be dangerous if you have a kidney problem or are on medication for heart, kidneys, or liver.

  • Sticking with unsalted butter, nuts, and seeds.

  • Purchasing low-sodium versions of foods: In low-sodium versions, the salt is cut by at least 50 percent from the original version. You can find low-sodium soy sauce, prepared meats, fish, cheeses, soups, cottage cheese, canned vegetables, and beans.

Putting a lock on stress and anxiety

Chronic stress and anxiety can cause your blood pressure to soar and lead to eventual heart problems. The link between the mind-body connection and cardiovascular disease is a proven phenomenon and one that deserves attention.

One in five patients with coronary artery disease or heart failure is depressed — that’s three times greater than the prevalence of depression in the greater population, according to a 2015 review in the American Journal of Hypertension. Several large and small studies conducted over the last five years show that psychological disorders, such as depression, stress/post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety are connected to cardiovascular disease.

So what can you do? Try the RELAX method for Total Body Dieters. Here it is:

  • Relate to your mental state. In other words, identify how you’re feeling — whether it’s stressed, anxious, or depressed.

  • Evaluate your feelings regularly and take a step back to look at them.

  • Laugh out loud every day to alleviate heavy feelings.

  • Ask for help from a professional.

  • X out days on your calendar or items on your list to show progress that can affect your heart health.

Clamping down on alcohol

Over time, excessive drinking (more than 3 drinks on any day or 7 drinks per week for women and more than 4 drinks on any day or 14 drinks per week for men) can cause blood pressure to rise, as well as other health problems. With alcohol, moderation is key. A glass of red wine a day may benefit heart health, but more than that can disrupt your sleep patterns, slow you down, and worsen depression, stress, and anxiety.

What does one drink look like? That’s 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1-1/2 ounces of liquor.

If you drink alcohol, pair it with food. Drinking on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar to fall and excessive overeating later. Drink slowly, dilute wine or liquor with sparkling water, and always put a limit of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Your heart, liver, and waistline will all thank you later!