3 alternatives for reducing blood pressure
America has a salt problem. Currently the average American eats about 3,400 milligrams (mg) of salt per day, in spite of the government's recommended amount of 2,400 mg (or 1,500 mg depending on certain race, age and medical history factors). But what does a 1,500 mg sodium diet even look like? As Keith Ayoob, associate pediatrics professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, writes, the vast majority of patients and even doctors can barely picture what a 1,500 mg sodium diet would entail — in fact, if a physician were to prescribe a lower-sodium diet, odds are that salt intake would still only hover around 2,000 mg.
It's important to cut down on the salt content in our foods, because high salt consumption is a risk factor for many serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension. But are there other ways to reduce blood pressure that don't involve unrealistically low levels of salt?
Here are a couple of Ayoob's suggestions:
- DASH diet: The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet emphasizes meals rich in vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy alongside modest salt reductions (ideally 2,300 mg per day). Not only does this more balanced approach to eating cut down on sodium levels, it also helps achieve a healthier sodium intake than simply cutting out salty snacks.
- Get active: Incorporating more exercise or even just regular walking into your day can help dilate blood vessels and gradually lower blood pressure.
- Lose weight: "Weight gain can increase blood pressure, too, and two-thirds of us are overweight or obese," writes Ayoob. "If we lose excess weight — even just 5 percent to 10 percent of body weight — and got back to having more fruits and veggies and low-fat yogurt and milk every day, it would probably have more impact than pressing our dietary sodium lower than 'hospital' thresholds. And since these are very underconsumed food groups, aiming in this direction would fill a lot of dietary gaps as well."
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