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Looking Beyond Salt to Lower Blood Pressure

Looking Beyond Salt to Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure affects about 30% of the UK population and according to theBritish Heart Foundationup to five million people in the UK are thought to be undiagnosed. Not only does the condition place your heart and blood vessels under strain,increasing the likelihood of a heart attackor stroke, but also increases the risk of kidney disease; few people realise that raised blood vessels is also linked to sight problems and impotence. High blood pressure tends to run in families, but there are a range of risk factors for the condition which you can influence.

While medications can be used to successfully treat high blood pressure, it isimportant to address lifestyle factorsto see from these treatments; the good news is that making these changes will also have apositive influence on general health and well-beingso you will reap the benefits all round. Factors such as stress, smoking, heavy drinking, lack of physical activity and being overweight make raised blood pressure more likely, but certain nutrients are also known to influence the pressure under which your blood is transported around your body. This means that dietary changes are helpful in both its prevention and management. The importance of reducing salt intake is widely publicised, with everyone being encouraged to reduce their intake of processed foods and to cook more from scratch to reduce the amount of salt in their diet. However, a number of other nutrients are also known to be important.

Aim for a diet rich in potassium

Potassium helps to counteract the negative effects of sodium, which is the component of salt responsible for raising blood pressure by encouraging the kidneys to retain more fluid. By including more potassium rich foods in the diet, this helps to restore the balance between sodium and potassium in the body to ensure the correct volume of fluid for optimal blood pressure control. Indeed a review of 33 trials that had investigated thebenefit of increased potassium intakefound a significant reduction in blood pressure in those people whose readings were initially raised. Fruit and vegetables are amongst the foods richest in potassium, with dried fruit, fruit juice, tropical fruits (such as bananas, kiwis and mangos), pulses, potatoes, tomatoes and green leafy vegetables providing the mineral in greatest quantities. Milk, yoghurt, nuts, seeds and chocolate also contain significant amounts of potassium. While increasing your intake of potassium rich foods is safe for most people, if you have a kidney problem it is however important that you speak with your doctor before doing so, as in some forms of kidney disease potassium can accumulate in the body.

Include more magnesium containing foods

Although studies have shown the impact of increased magnesium intake to be more varied than that of potassium,upping your intake of magnesiumis still thought to offer benefit to blood pressure control, particularly when combined with efforts to increase potassium intake as well. Magnesium has a positive impact on the muscle within the walls of the blood vessels, but also helps to control sodium and potassium levels; either could explain how this mineral lowers blood pressure. Again, it is mainly foods of plant origin that contain the highest levels, with nuts (particularly almonds and Brazils), oats, peas, beans, lentils and spinach offering the most magnesium per serving, though dairy foods, fish and meat also offer useful amounts.

Increase your calcium intake

While an adequate intake of calcium is usually promoted to maintain the strength of our bones, this mineral has also been shown toeffectively lower blood pressure. An adequate intake of calcium also appears to aid weight loss, which may in part help to explain how the mineral brings down blood pressure in those people who are overweight; though like magnesium it also seems to be important for muscle function within the blood vessels. While low-fat dairy foods are one of the best sources of calcium available and it is recommended we should aim to include three portions of these daily to meet our calcium requirements, there are other foods that offer a good alternative for anyone who is unable to have or chooses to avoid milk, yoghurt and cheese. Tinned fish with soft bones such as salmon and sardines are a good choice, particularly as they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which have also been found to have a positive impact on blood pressure. Plant sources of calcium do not offer the mineral in such large quantities, but nuts, dried fruit, pulses and green leafy vegetables still provide a helpful serving. Many dairy-free alternatives such as soya, rice or oat milk have added calcium and the mineral is also added to a range of items from fruit juice and breakfast cereals to tofu, so check the labels on these foods to select those which are fortified.

Lisa Williams
After graduating in Food and Nutritional Sciences, I began working as a nutritionist before motherhood got in the way. Now I work from home as a freelance writer and cover topics as diverse as the latest in health research, green food production, family nutrition and health, living with conditions and health education


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