I’ve been keeping an eye on my blood pressure these days. With a family history of hypertension, it just makes sense. And so far, my results are good. A while ago, I stopped at a local pharmacy and used their automated machine and saw a couple of readings heading into the high range. But more accurate readings have put it further down in the normal range, so that’s good.
But when I looked at my profile for hypertension risk factors, I was struck that there wasn’t a great deal I could do. The major risk factors for hypertension, according to the Mayo Clinic, are:
- Age. (Hypertension is more common in men around 45 or so, and becomes more common in women around 65)
- Race. (High blood pressure is particularly common among blacks)
- Family history.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Not being physically active.
- Using tobacco.
- Too much salt (sodium) in your diet.
- Too little potassium in your diet.
- Too little vitamin D in your diet.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
I do pretty well on most of these. But of the ones I can control, the one about sodium sticks out. As a man and a lover of food that I KNOW is bad for me, I know that I can be the author of my own hypertensive misfortune. Burgers, fries, onion rings, chicken wings — it would be foolish to pretend they don’t have a lot of sodium in there. But there are a ton of foods out there that you wouldn’t expect to have high sodium levels.
We often have pizzas on naan bread for a quick and easy weekday meal. On top, prosciutto, pears, brie, and basil. I knew the prosciutto would be high in sodium — after all, it’s a cured meat. But the naan bread itself has a surprising amount of sodium. Between those two ingredients, one naan pizza is likely delivering more than half my daily allowance of sodium.
Chicken breasts can be injected with brine during processing, increasing their sodium content drastically. A slice of process cheese might have 20% of your daily allowance of sodium!
If you have french fries, you expect them to be salty. But if you add a tablespoon or two of ketchup, you’re looking at 400 mg of sodium just in that!
And none of this counts restaurant or takeout food, which can be extremely high in sodium. You can see just how easy it would be to end up with more than your roughly 2,500 mg of sodium per day:
- 350 mg: a bowl of Raisin Bran.
- 870 mg: a bagel and cream cheese
- 1220 mg breakfast
- 1600 mg: 100 grams of deli ham on white bread with mustard.
- 1600 mg lunch
- 393 mg: baked chicken breast
- 418 mg: baked potato
- 460 mg: cup of canned peas
- 1271 mg supper
- 744 mg: 1/2 cup of salsa
- 420 mg: 24 tortilla chips
- 1164 mg snack
That’s a whopping 5255 mg of sodium, more than twice the recommended amount in a day, without a single shake of your salt shaker, without eating out, and with lots of things that seem healthy at first glance. (Sodium figures from the Fat Secret website)
You can’t change your age, your race, or your family history of hypertension. But if you start to track things like sodium, you do see where you can help prevent hypertension, or if you have it, improve it without resorting to drugs. And that’s a good thing.
(Pretzel photo is a CC-licenced image from Flickr user Jenn Durfey)Read More
Do you want to live well past menopause? One way to do it is to cut out the trans fats (or partially hydrogenated oils) now!
Trans fats are found mostly in fried (e.g. french fries, donuts) and processed foods (e.g. pastries, pizza dough, cookies, crackers). In the body, trans fats significantly raise LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels (read: raise bad fats, lower good fats). And since we already know that elevated cholesterol right around menopause is a major factor in heart disease in women, it makes sense that the stroke risk might also come into play.
In a study presented last week at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference 2010, researchers analyzed data culled from 87,230 women who had participated in the Women’s Health Initiative and followed for about 8 years. After adjusting for possible factors that might influence results (e.g.s age, race, smoking, physical activity, alcohol, body mass index, hormone therapy, diabetes, aspirin use, fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber intake) they found that women who ate the most total fat had a 40% increased risk for ischemic stroke. Women who ate trans fat in particular, had a 30% increased risk for ischemic stroke. (Ischemic stroke is caused by blocked blood vessels in or leading to the brain.) So, how much fat were these women eating? Women who reported eating the most fat averaged about 86 grams of total fat and 7 grams of trans fat daily (compared to 26 grams and 1 gram, respectively, in women who ate the least).
It seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Cut down on the fats and processed food and increase the healthy stuff. In the supermarket, stick to the store periphery where fruits, vegetables and all the good stuff can be found. Read the label…often.
Truly, trans fat is not your friend.Read More