March 20, 2017

Ways to Combat High Blood Pressure with a Heart-Healthy Diet

Combat High Blood Pressure

Trying to stay current with nutrition news can be an exercise in frustration. Keeping track of the latest advice about what may be good for you—or bad for you—sometimes seems devilishly difficult. Advice varies, is sometimes contradictory, and tends to come from every possible direction and source. It’s hard to know whom to trust.

Know that our information is grounded in published science. While it’s certainly true that scientists sometimes gets things wrong—and take years to correct misunderstandings or misinformation—serious researchers continue to work tirelessly around the world to determine what really works, what doesn’t, what probably doesn’t matter, and why.

 

Past Stumbles, Current Successes

 

In the past, science has ignored some troubling food-related issues. The dramatic rise in sugar consumption, for example, and the alarming increase in cases of type 2 diabetes and obesity, which have mirrored this spike in consumption. Or consider the example of trans fats. For generations these synthetic fat molecules featured prominently in Americans’ diets and in the food supply. We now know these lab-created fat molecules are essentially toxic; they’re capable of wrecking havoc on the cardiovascular system. They are decidedly not safe. For decades, scientists dropped the ball on this particular issue

 

Meanwhile, in the 1980s, scientists busied themselves sounding the alarm regarding the risks posed by fats in the diet. As it turns out, most plant-based fats are actually heart-healthy and beneficial, thus the message that “all fat is bad” was misguided at best. No one is suggesting a high-fat diet is healthful, but the obsession with eliminating fat from the diet, sparked by irresponsible scientists and/or journalists in decades past, had real consequences for Americans’ health. In many instances, food manufacturers responded to this “fat-shaming” campaign by adding—you guessed it—more sugar to their low-fat products, to enhance their appeal. It was a lose/lose for consumers, all based on misinformation.

 

Clearly, science doesn’t always get things right. But nutrition scientists do know some things with great confidence, and their findings are grounded in solid research. We know a lot more now about the causes and natural history of cardiovascular disease, for instance. We know that heart disease and stroke (cardiovascular disease) is the number one killer of men and women in America. And we’ve identified the risk factors that make developing cardiovascular disease more likely. Among these, several are directly related to diet. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure (hypertension), for example, are major risk factors. All are related in one way or another to diet and exercise.

 

So What is a Heart Healthy Diet?

 

Ancient eating patterns exist in various regions around the world. Among the best known and most heavily documented are the Mediterranean diet and the Okinawa diet, among a few other dietary patterns. Research has documented multiple health benefits from adhering to such diets. People who consumer these types of diets tend to be leaner, have lower incidences of heart disease and diabetes, get cancer less often, and generally live longer.

 

These diets are all characterized by several notable factors: They tend to be low-meat, mostly-vegetarian, with some seafood, modest alcohol intake, and a reliance on fresh herbs, nuts, seeds, and legumes. And they make no use of added sugars, except from a little honey or dates, occasionally, and fresh fruits.

 

For Best Results Eat Mostly Plants and Some Fish

Certain plant foods are believed to possess phytonutrients (literally, plant nutrients) that confer health benefits beyond merely supplying calories, fiber, or even the essential vitamins and minerals we require. Raw beets and spinach, for example, contain inorganic nitrates; compounds that help the body keep blood pressure in check. Many plant foods also contain anti-aging nutrients such as antioxidants, natural anti-inflammatory compounds, and other beneficial compounds you probably won’t find on any “nutrition facts” label.

 

As a general rule, think fresh and colorful. Avoid red and processed meats, and welcome fish into your diet. Nuts are an excellent appetite-modifying snack with heart-healthy fats and plenty of minerals and even antioxidants. Cole-family vegetables, such as broccoli, arugula, cauliflower, etc., contain unique chemicals that have been linked to potential health benefits. And brightly colored foods, such as red cherries, dark blue blueberries, or orange bell peppers all contain pigment compounds that serve double duty as potent antioxidants.

 

Experts suspect these compounds and others from a heart-healthy diet may help reduce the damaging effects of a condition called oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress is a biochemical condition that may arise when the diet features inadequate sources of dietary antioxidants. Fortunately, people who follow a Mediterranean-type diet needn’t worry. Their plant-rich diet is filled with beneficial natural antioxidants from things like extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits.

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