Take Action Against High Blood Pressure

Celebrate National Heart Month with Less Salt, More Physical Activity

AMES, Iowa — Lifestyle changes, like eating a low-sodium diet and being physically active, can help reduce high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, or maintain blood pressure at a healthy level. February is National Heart Month and a good time to take action against this risk factor for heart attack and stroke, said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist.

“It is estimated that one in three U.S. adults, or 68 million people, have high blood pressure. Unfortunately more than half of adults with high blood pressure do not have it under control,” Francis said.

“When you get your blood pressure checked, it’s measured as systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. The ‘normal’ or recommended level is less than 120 over less than 80,” Francis said. “You begin to be at risk for high blood pressure, or pre-hypertension, when your level is 120 to 139 over 80 to 89. You have high blood pressure if your level is 140 or higher over 90 or higher.”

A low sodium diet is a key factor in controlling blood pressure, Francis said. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans age 2 and older consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. For those age 51 and older or higher risk groups including African Americans, and those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the recommended intake is 1,500 mg daily.

“According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, our leading dietary sources of sodium include yeast breads, chicken and chicken mixed dishes, pizza and pasta dishes. We also add to our sodium intakes by using table salt,” Francis said.

To add flavor to food without adding salt, Francis suggests these tips:

  • Use unsalted seasoning blends, garlic powders or fresh or dried herbs to help add extra flavor to soups, pasta dishes, meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.
  • For spicy flavor, add chili peppers, chili powder, cilantro, cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to dishes.
  • For Italian food, add basil, oregano, parsley and rosemary to a homemade pasta sauce, rather than using a premade sauce.
  • Limit marinade use by choosing lemon or limejuice to flavor meats.

To keep herbs and spices fresh, store them in airtight containers away from heat. For example, do not store them above the stove. Instead, keep then in a cupboard away from the stove, in the pantry or in the freezer. If stored properly, dried spices can be kept for up to 3-5 years. Fresh spices can be frozen for 6-12 months, Francis said.

Join Live Healthy Iowa

“Another way to keep your heart healthy is to join the Live Healthy Iowa 10 Week Challenge,” Francis said. “This team-based weight loss and physical activity program helps Iowans make positive changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle.”

This year the program is offering online nutrition and physical activity assessments, as well as four online nutrition lessons.

Lesson 1 discusses four ways to plan healthy meals, and Lesson 2 explains body mass index, calorie basics and tracking. The third lesson discusses how to accurately read and interpret the information on the nutrition facts label, and the fourth lesson guides participants through the 10 red flags of junk science.

“Each lesson can be completed in about 10 minutes. Participants will receive links to the lessons through weekly emails, and the links also will be available on the Live Healthy Iowa website throughout the 10 week challenge,” Francis said. “We hope these new features will help Iowans adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors that will lead them toward improved health and wellbeing.”

For more information or to register for the 2013 program, go to www.LiveHealthyIowa.org. Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

For more information on nutrition and health or to receive a weekly e-mail from ISU Extension and Outreach including a food, recipe and activity of the week, visit www.extension.iastate.edu/healthnutrition.