Gayatri Kashelkar explains how best to manage hypertension.
Blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day. When blood pressure stays elevated for a long period, it is called as ‘high blood pressure’. Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood that is pumped by the heart in ratio to the amount of resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. High blood pressure can occur as a result of several factors such as age, family history, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, excess consumption of dietary sodium (salt) and stress.
|Category||Systolic (mmHg)||Diastolic (mmHg)|
|Normal||Less than 120||Less than 80|
|Hypertension||140 or higher||90 or higher|
The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard and contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of heart diseases, stroke, congestive heart failure, blindness, Diabetes, kidney disease and high cholesterol levels.
Managing high blood pressure
- Check your weight
Being overweight or obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure as well as heart disease. Research studies have shown that achieving your ideal body weight can lower the risk of high blood pressure.
You have to look at Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference.
A simple formula to calculate your BMI-
BMI= Height (m) 2
|Obese||30 or greater|
Too much body fat in the stomach area also increases the risk of diseases such as kidney disease, eye disease and heart disease. A waist measurement of more than 35 inches in women and more than 40 inches in men is considered to be high.
- Balanced diet
Bringing a change in the dietary patterns has been shown to lower blood pressure. Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a dietary approach that focuses on increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and low-fat dairy products. DASH diet is safe and is currently being advocated by the American Heart Association for preventing and treating prehypertension and hypertension. Long-term research studies have shown that the DASH diet approach in hypertensive people can lead up to 5.5 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure and 3 mmHg reduction in diastolic blood pressure. This diet is high in potassium, phosphorus and protein. For this reason, the DASH diet would not be advisable for individuals with end-stage renal disease. Moderate sodium restriction is recommended for the treatment of hypertension.
DASH diet should consist of the following foods:
|Food Group||Daily serving|
|Whole grains||7-8 per day|
|Vegetables||4-5 per day|
|Fresh fruits||4-5 per day|
|Low dairy products||2-3 per day|
|Lean meat, poultry, fish||2 per day|
|Nuts, seeds||4-5 per week|
|Cooking oil||2-3 tsp per day|
- Never skip your breakfast.
- Take small and frequent meals instead of having long gaps between two big meals.
- Avoid ready to eat food packets, readymade gravies or soups, chips, wafers, excessive salt, pickles, Chinese food, butter, margarine, dalda and cheese.
- Prefer whole fruits instead of fruit juices.
- Use natural herbs, spices, lemon, kokum, coriander leaves and mint leaves to enhance flavours in cooking. Using herbs, spices, garlic and onion can make your food sufficiently spicy without adding extra salt to the meal.
- Use basil leaves in soups and salads, cinnamon in vegetable gravies and soups, chilli powder in vegetables, ginger and garlic in soups, vegetable gravies, dal and parathas.
- Read the food labels. Many foods contain sodium including baking soda, soy sauce, MSG.
- Avoid excess consumption of alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure.
Regular physical activity makes the heart strong and causes less effort in pumping blood. This reduces the pressure exerted on the blood vessels, thus lowering the blood pressure. 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week is advisable to keep control of high blood pressure. Combining physical activity with diet helps in weight loss and better managing the blood pressure. Regular physical activities such as cycling, jogging, swimming or even climbing the stairs can help manage your blood pressure level. It is recommended to consult your physician before doing an exercise regime.
To manage your blood pressure:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Be physically active.
- Follow a healthy eating plan.
- Reduce sodium or salt in your diet.
- Reduce intake of alcohol.
- Take prescribed drugs by a physician.
High blood pressure is the common forerunner to a lot of health conditions such as heart attack, stroke, kidney dysfunction and Diabetes. Better management of blood pressure not only ensures heart health but also many health problems can be kept at bay. Simple dietary changes and inclusion of regular physical activity can pave a long way in having controlled blood pressure value. It is highly recommended to consult your dietician to create a diet plan which helps you in achieving your ideal blood pressure range.
Ms Gayatri Kashelkar is a Consultant Dietician.