November is upon us and we have just two months left of the Journey to Healthy Eating 2017. Where has the time gone?
October’s healthy eating goal was about getting enough dietary iron, a nutrient which a significant enough portion of the population has trouble obtaining. Iron is needed by the body to maintain healthy blood cells, specifically the hemoglobin cells, which transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron is also involved with a number of enzymatic reactions, synthesis of DNA, nerve transmission and protein synthesis. So basically, it’s really important for us to maintain our iron stores. If your iron levels and, consequently, your hemoglobin levels take a dive you will really feel the impact.
This last month I set my focus on a group that often has a more challenging time getting enough iron, vegetarians and vegans, in my article ‘Can I Get Enough Iron On a Plant-Based Diet?’. The short answer to the question is ‘yes’, you can enough iron if you exclude meat, fish and poultry. The long answer is that you’re going to need to know which plant-based foods are rich in iron and which foods enhance or inhibit its absorption.
On a personal note - Although I am a meat eater, I don’t eat meat daily and because of this I try to focus on consistently getting some quality non-heme (or plant-based) iron in my diet. Two of my favourite iron-packed plant-based foods are pumpkin seeds and lentils (see here and here about why I love lentils).
NOW ONTO NOVEMBER’S CHALLENGE…
November’s challenge: Eat to Lower Blood Pressure
This month, I thought I’d focus on dietary strategies to improve blood pressure because high blood pressure, or hypertension, affects a huge portion of the population. In Canada, 1 in 5 (or 20%) of the population has high blood pressure. Hypertension is when the pressure, or force, of the blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels is consistently too high (defined as a pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher). In 2007 hypertension was the most common reason for seeing a doctor, with 4 million prescriptions for anti-hypertensive medications written each month (yes, you read that correctly...EACH month). While these stats are a decade old, they are likely comparable today (although, I’d love to be wrong in this assumption).
The reason there is so much concern with hypertension is that it can lead to:
- Arterial damage and aneurysm
- Damage to you heart (e.g. Coronary Heart Disease, Heart Failure)
- Kidney failure
- Damage to the blood vessels in your eyes
A good thing about the management of hypertension, at least from a Dietitian’s point of view, is that dietary choices can play a role in its improvement (and prevention). There are several dietary strategies that can have a meaningful impact on high blood pressure, these include:
Decreasing sodium (salt) intake
- High sodium diets are associated with high blood pressure. As a whole, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is too high in sodium. The majority of our sodium intake is from convenience/packaged foods and restaurant meals.
- Some populations (e.g. overweight/obese individuals, elderly) may be more sensitive to salt restriction. In other words, dietary sodium will affect some people more than others. These people are said to be more sensitive to salt.
- To decrease sodium intake cut down on high sodium pre-packaged foods (look for low sodium alternatives), put down the salt shaker and limit salty restaurant meals.
- For more information check out Salt: Is it a little or a lot?
Increasing potassium-rich foods
- Potassium can be found in a number of plant-based foods including bananas, oranges, avocado, leafy greens, tomatoes, nuts and legumes. For a more potassium-rich foods see here or here.
- A literature review found that potassium supplementation was associated with a lowering of blood pressure, especially in those with a low baseline potassium intake and/or those eating a high sodium diet. (Please note: potassium supplements should not be taken without first discussing with your doctor)
- There is evidence that it may not be a high potassium diet alone that has positive effects on high blood pressure, but more specifically the sodium to potassium ratio that affects blood pressure. A high sodium to potassium ratio has been associated with a greater cardiovascular disease risk and mortality rate. In other words, if you are eating too much salt, and not enough potassium, your risk of hypertension and heart disease is higher.
- Most Canadians do not meet the recommended intake for potassium, mostly likely due to inadequate fruit and vegetable intake.
Note: those with kidney disease should consult with their doctor or Registered Dietitian before increasing their potassium intake. Many people with kidney disease need to restrict dietary potassium.
Increasing magnesium-rich foods
- There is evidence that low dietary magnesium is associated with cardiovascular disease (including hypertension).
- Magnesium is found in a number of foods including green leafy vegetables, cereal grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy and seafood.
- For a list of magnesium containing foods foods check out this resource.
Increasing calcium-rich foods
- Dietary calcium, but not calcium supplements, are associated with lower hypertension risk.
- Dairy products (a rich source of calcium) are inversely associated with hypertension. In other words, those with higher dairy intake tend to have lower hypertension risk.
- While dairy products are a great source of bioavailable calcium, there are a number of other foods which contain calcium including leafy green vegetables, canned salmon and sardines (with bones), calcium-set tofu, almonds, and broccoli.
- If you are interested in boosting your non-dairy calcium intake, check out Can You Get Enough Calcium Without Dairy?
- For more calcium-rich foods, see here.
- Alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of high blood pressure.
- Men and women appear to react differently when it comes to alcohol and hypertension. Current alcohol consumption recommendations are for men to limit to 2 standard drinks per day, and women to limit to 1 standard drink per day. (Standard drinks are defined as one: 4 oz. of wine,12 oz. beer, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.)
Other lifestyle strategies for reducing risk of, or improving, hypertension:
- Smoking cessation.
- Getting regular physical activity.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
Summary of diet recommendations:
When you put the above diet recommendations together, you'll notice that the diet that improves hypertension:
- Is rich in whole foods
- Limits high sodium, pre-packaged convenience foods.
- Is abundant in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Encourages low to moderate alcohol consumption
For those of you interested in reading more, the DASH diet (or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a very good diet with proven blood pressure lowering effects. It contains many of the above components, including encouraging a diet low in sodium, and high in dietary calcium, magnesium and potassium. For more info on the DASH diet read: The DASH Diet: the best diet you probably don't know about.
ARE YOU FOLLOWING ALONG WITH THIS CHALLENGE? MAKE SURE TO CHECK BACK ON THE BLOG AND FACEBOOK PAGE ALL MONTH LONG FOR CHALLENGE RELATED ARTICLES AND TIPS.
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Stay tuned for next month’s Challenge!
INTERESTED IN THE PREVIOUS MONTH'S CHALLENGES?
- Find January's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find February's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find March's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find April's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find May's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find June's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find July's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find August's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find September's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find October's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.