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Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common condition that many people suffer from unknowingly. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that 1 in 3 Americans suffers from hypertension. There are several easy steps you can take to prevent hypertension and live a healthy lifestyle.

1. Visit your doctor and get your blood pressure checked. Most people who have hypertension are not aware that they do. Make an appointment with your doctor to get your blood pressure checked. Your doctor can provide information about the health impacts of hypertension, as well as ways to prevent high blood pressure.

Blood pressure scores measure the pressure and force by which blood flows through your arteries and against your arterial walls. Normal blood pressure is a reading that is lower than 120/80 mmHg. Hypertension is a state of elevated blood pressure over an extended period of time. When left untreated, hypertension increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, heart attack and heart arrhythmias.

2. Track you daily sodium intake. You may be surprised how much sodium you consume! Sodium, or salt, plays a pivotal role in developing hypertension. Increased levels of sodium in your bloodstream put a strain on your blood vessels and raise your blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. However, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium per day – that is over 1,000 mg more than the recommended daily average. It is important to pay attention to the amount of salt you are consuming every day to avoid increasing your risk for developing hypertension.

3. Eat more whole foods. Dietary Approaches for Stopping Hypertension (the DASH Diet) recommends limiting sodium intake, as well as making fresh, whole foods staples in your diet. Eating whole foods regularly has been proven to prevent hypertension.

Add these whole foods to your diet:

○ Fruits, especially berries

○ Vegetables, especially leafy greens and beets

○ Whole grains, especially oatmeal

○ Fish, especially salmon

○ Chicken

○ Beans

○ Nuts

○ Seeds

○ Vegetable oils

4. Read your labels! When shopping for food, check the nutrition label on the back of a product for sodium content. Always consider the number of servings in a container when evaluating the sodium level in a product. To know how much sodium there is in an entire container, multiply the sodium content by the number of servings. In the food label example pictured, there are 700 mg of sodium per serving and there are six servings in this container. In the entire container, there are 700 mg x 6 = 4,200 mg of sodium. That is almost double the amount of sodium that someone should consume in one day! Aim for reduced- and low-sodium products.

Avoid these foods that are high in saturated fat and sodium:

○ Pork

○ Beef

○ Whole Milk

○ Dairy

○ Coconut oil

○ Palm oil

○ Fast food

○ Processed food

○ Frozen food

○ Canned food

5. Make informed meal choices. Be aware of the sodium content in the food you cook at home and eat in restaurants. When cooking at home, be sure to check the sodium level in the ingredients you are using. Try to integrate low-salt recipes into your cooking routines to lower your sodium levels. When eating out, check to see if nutritional content is available on the restaurant’s menu or website. Many restaurants season their food with excess amounts of salt to enhance its flavor. This can help you can make informed decisions about the meals that you order.

Apply these steps to decrease your risk of developing hypertension and live a healthy lifestyle!

Aaron Stonelake is the nutritionist for the Kern County Public Health Services Department. For more on health resources and programs, go to www.kernpublichealth.com.

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