Today in the U.S. approximately 92.1 million people are living with some form of cardiovascular disease, or high blood pressure (also called hypertension). The American Heart Association has found that Heart Disease (including Coronary Heart Disease, Hypertension, and Stroke) remains the No.1 cause of death in the US, and accounts for 1 in 7 deaths - that's over 360,000 people each year.
These statistics are scary, but what's even more frightening is that many people are unaware that they have hypertension as it has no symptoms. Sadly, children are at risk, too. Unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are contributing to high blood pressure cases at increasingly young ages.
What is Your Risk?
The cause of 90 to 95 percent of the cases of high blood pressure isn't known, according to the American Heart Association. However, you could be at increased risk if you...
...are an older adult.
The risk of high blood pressure is greater as you age.
High blood pressure is particularly common in this group. Serious complications like stroke and heart attack also are more common.
...have a family history.
High blood pressure tends to run in families.
The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients. As the volume of blood circulated increases, so does the pressure on artery walls.
...are not physically active.
People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work and the stronger the force on your arteries.
Smoking raises your blood pressure temporarily and the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls, increasing blood pressure.
...consume too much salt (sodium).
Salt causes the body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
...do not consume enough potassium.
Potassium helps prevents too much sodium from accumulating in the blood.
...drink too much alcohol.
Over time, heavy drinking can damage the heart. Having more than a few drinks in a sitting can also temporarily raise your blood pressure.
...have too much stress.
High stress levels can lead to temporary increases in blood pressure.
...have some chronic conditions.
Certain chronic conditions may increase your risk of high blood pressure, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease, and sleep apnea.
Pregnancy can contribute to high blood pressure.
Steps you can take to lower your risk of hypertension
Some hypertension risk factors can not be mitigated, but many can. It is important to stop smoking for several health reasons, and the risk of high blood pressure is just another good one. Exercise will help you both lose weight and reduce stress. And drinking alcohol in moderation is always a good idea. These steps, plus reducing sodium in your diet, will also help limit your risk of many other diseases. Talk to your doctor about calculating your blood pressure risk.
Ways to reduce sodium in your diet
Salt intake is such a major cause of heart disease that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced a plan to curtail salt in manufactured foods. On average, Americans consume 3,000 to 3,600 milligrams of sodium (salt) daily. According to the American Heart Association, the body needs no more than 200 milligrams a day, and we should have no more than 1,500 mg a day.
Cut down gradually.
By cutting down on salt gradually, your taste buds will have time to adjust. And taste your food before adding salt. Since most foods contain salt, it is likely you don't need to add anymore.
Read food labels.
Read the sodium content so you can be aware of your intake.
Try spices instead of salt.
Use spices and herbs as seasoning such as basil, garlic (not garlic salt), parsley, paprika, pepper, nutmeg, dill, rosemary and allspice. Lemon is also a great way to flavor your food as well. It is especially great for lean meats, poultry, fish, vegetables and salads.
Use True Lemon, Lime, or Orange instead of salt.
Sandra Parkington, MPH, RN a nationally recognized expert on dietary sodium and author of How to Keep Track of Your SALT Intake: Easy as 1-2-3 stated, "if you want a fantastic way to add taste to your food or drinks, try the new True Lemon and True Lime products. Just carry the little packet with you to sprinkle on foods in place of salt. This versatile sodium substitute (sodium free) also comes in a shaker and can be added to chicken, fish, vegetables, salads, as well as to flavor drinks." Visit Parkington's site for more salt information.
Dr. David Framm, a board-certified cardiologist and internist, also recommends alternate spices. Lemon pepper can be an excellent salt alternative, however many brands of lemon pepper actually contain large quantities of sodium. Peppers, specifically cayenne pepper, are also excellent alternatives. "From the cardiac standpoint, lemon is an ideal salt substitute," said Dr. Framm. "It's palatable, and in the case of True Lemon, it is inexpensive, portable, and healthy. It clearly has enough of the bite and flavor to replace either adding sodium (salt) to prepared foods or using salt to cook foods."
Sources: American Heart Association, Mayo Clinic