High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, puts people at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. The number of sufferers is staggering, especially in the United States, where around 75 million adults have been diagnosed with the disease. And despite it being largely manageable with diet and lifestyle changes, almost half of those do not have the condition under control. You’re different, though. You’re here to make a positive change. We’ll let you know exactly what foods to avoid in order to conquer hypertension and defend against heart attack and stroke.
Sugar and Salt
These two tastiest ingredients are also the main drivers of hypertension and must be limited. That doesn’t mean you have to eat entirely unseasoned food, as the body truly needs some of both of these things. However, in a world of fast and packaged foods, it is extremely easy to exceed the daily recommended allowance by a lot. A focus on eating whole foods that are prepared fresh at home can go a long way in your quest to limit dangerous sugar and salt.
Depending on other factors you will want to discuss with your doctor, the amount of sodium a healthy person can consume per day should not exceed 2,300 milligrams. If you’re reading labels, stick with foods in the 5% DV range for sodium. Anything that tips the scale at 20% DV or more is best avoided, unless you want it to be the only thing you eat that day.
According to the American Heart Association, you shouldn’t be eating more than 37.5 grams (or 9 teaspoons) for men and 25 grams (6 teaspoons) for women per day of sugar. That sounds like plenty, but keep in mind that one caffeinated soda contains 33 grams all by itself; that goes up to 39 grams in the decaffeinated colas.
1. Canned Beans
Canned beans, and in fact many canned vegetables, are loaded with salt to aid in preservation. Beans in general are a great food choice because they are high in protein and other vital nutrients that reduce inflammation and keep blood sugar steady.
If you really prefer to eat your beans canned, rinse them thoroughly in a colander before eating to wash away up to 41% of the sodium.
2. Premade Soups
A lot of premade soups on the grocery aisles are packed with salt to bring out the flavors of cooked veggies and noodles. When cooked, the salt content in soup also concentrates a bit more as water boils off. And of course, there’s no way to rinse soup before you eat it.
A better bet is to make soup from scratch or look for labels that advertise “low sodium” or “reduced salt” – but make sure you still read the nutrition facts on the back, because while the sodium is reduced from that product’s regular version, it may still be too salty for people with hypertension.
3. Cooked Tomato Products
The humble tomato features in a great many sauces and condiments. Fresh from the garden they are tender and delicious. Grown on a large scale, however, tomatoes are selected to be firmer so that they can withstand shipping, and can be a bit on the bland side.
Major food manufacturers ramp up the salt content in tomato sauce, ketchup, and tomato paste in order to bring out the natural flavor of the fruit that we crave. You can get all the delicious flavor with a fraction of the salt by making your own sauces with fresh vine-ripened tomatoes and herbs at home – it’s not even that hard.
4. Packaged and Processed Meats
Most all packaged foods are going to contain too much sodium, and this especially applies to meats such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon, and lunchmeat. You already know to limit the amount of red meat in your diet for overall health, but beware of sneaky sodium sources such as packaged turkey or chicken.
Lean white meat is generally a good meal, but buy straight from a butcher to avoid the buckets of salt that go into grocery store versions.
5. Frozen Meals
These so-called “TV dinners” revolutionized dinnertime in the 1950s, but it’s time for the pendulum to swing back toward freshly prepared meals, even though it takes more effort. Highly convenient, especially for lunch breaks that seem to get shorter and shorter, frozen meals are also packed with sodium, and the quality of the ingredients in most brands is not top notch.
Check the labels to locate a few brands that keep the sodium in check – they are out there, but you will probably need to pay a bit more.
First, the obvious. There is no redeeming value to candy. It is comprised of sugar and empty calories that blast your blood sugar through the roof and then send you crashing back to earth in short order. That ride sure feels good, though, and we get how powerful the cravings can be. But rather than nutritionally void candy, opt for fruit instead, which delivers a reasonable amount of sugar along with essential fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Fruit that’s high in potassium, like bananas, is especially good for people with hypertension because the nutrient seems to play a preventative role in reducing blood pressure levels.
7. Soft Drinks
Sodas are just as high as candy in sugar and calories, but are even worse in one particular way. Studies show that calories you drink don’t make you feel as full as calories you eat. So you can take in more than your daily recommended amount of sugar in one soda but still feel like you want to reach for a piece of cake.
Sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice or a sprig of mint won’t hit you like a freight train the same way soda does, but in the end provides a steadier, smoother day.
Commercially-made cakes, cookies, donuts, and other baked treats are brimming with both sugar and fat. Eating just one traditional serving size could bust your entire days’ sugar allowance and lead to weight gain. To reduce the amount of sugar you get from baked goods while still, you know, enjoying life, share one dessert with everyone at the table when dining out. You can also make surprisingly tasty baked goods at home using sugar substitutes including applesauce, dates, or Stevia.
Products like raw honey, pure maple syrup, and coconut sugar are also good substitutes because they are lower on the glycemic scale than white sugar and come along with essential nutrients, electrolytes, and antioxidants.
We are expanding our previous warning about the sodium in tomato sauces to warn that most sauces and condiments are high in sugar, too. Jarred or canned sauces and condiments from all over the world – American, Mexican, Asian, Indian, and Italian alike – can all pack a double whammy, so be sure to read your labels carefully.
You may notice that products specifically made with lower sugar have more salt to compensate, and vice versa. If all else fails, we encourage you to get creative at home. You will likely find that fresh herbs do a better job than salt and sugar to flavor sauces anyway.
Drinking alcohol is on the no-go list for people with people with all sorts of conditions, because processing it puts a strain on your body. Many types are also high in sugar or are frequently mixed with sugary beverages. Too much alcohol leads to dehydration (the hangover) and also to weight gain, both of which are risk factors for hypertension. Having more than three drinks in a sitting will also raise your blood pressure on the spot. If you don’t want to teetotal, one serving per day for women and two for men is generally considered safe.
The upshot is that the most straightforward way to eliminate the excess sugar and salt in your diet is to cook at home. However, many food manufacturers and even restaurants are getting hip to the movement toward healthier eating and can provide reasonable choices that you don’t have to sweat over in the kitchen. With some extra research and preparation, along with the willingness to retrain your palette, you will likely experience new appreciation of the natural flavors in your food. Before long, you won’t miss the blast of sugar and sodium at all.