Mediterranean Diet – Eat Fruits and Vegetables to Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure

Published on 19/11/2007 in Spanish Lifestyle

Fruit and vegetablesIntroduction

During my childhood and teenager years I ate fruits and vegetables because my mother said so. After I left my parents’ house, I kept eating them because I was used to do so (not a bad reason in this particular case). However, when I moved from my hometown in Spain to the United States, I decided –who knows how and why- that I was too busy to eat fruits and vegetables. I was always in a rush, so at that time having a piece of chicken and a biscuit for lunch became the norm.

After a series of dramatic events in my life –I lost two friends to breast cancer and one to a heart attack- moved me to complete a career as a Registered Dietitian, I went back to my common sense and resumed eating fruits and vegetables. What convinced me to eat them? The first one is that fruits and vegetables help me to maintain my blood pressure at a healthy level.

What is high blood pressure and why is important to prevent it?

Several major reasons.

Blood pressure is how forcefully the blood is banging against the walls of the arteries. If you have high blood pressure it means the heart is pounding harder than it should to send through the blood vessels the nutrients and oxygen the cells need to maintain life. Continuous high blood pressure can cause havoc in your body because it:

  • Causes the walls of the arteries to thicken, a condition that reduces the blood flow.
  • Makes the inside of the arteries rough, contributing to the formation of plaque, mounds of fat and debris deposited in the wall of the arteries. Plaque reduces the space available for blood to circulate.
  • Enlarges the heart. An enlarged heart becomes weak and has to work harder to send the nutrients through the blood vessels which results in high blood pressure.
  • Weakens the inner walls of blood vessels triggering the formation of a balloon or aneurysm. This ballooning may cause the blood vessel to rupture causing a hemorrhagic stroke.

What do you need to do to keep a healthy blood pressure?

  • Be physically active
  • Limit sodium (salt) in your diet
  • Don’t smoke
  • Avoid high alcohol consumption
  • Maintain an appropriate body weigh

Why can sodium be a problem?

Sodium can be a problem because wherever sodium goes, water goes. Since both are inseparable, when we eat a lot of salt we retain a large volume of fluid in our blood vessels that needs to be moved around. And what do you think moves all that fluid in your body? You are right, the heart.

The standard recommendation for sodium is between 1,500 and 2,400 milligrams a day. American public consumes between 4,000 and 8,000 milligrams per day. How do we manage to ingest so much sodium in our diets? Because we eat a lot of processed foods and very few fruits and vegetables.

Why are processed foods so high in sodium?

Manufacturers of processed foods use salt as a preventive measure because salt keeps microbes-microscopic organisms that transmit disease, at bay. Always keep in mind that about 75 percent of the salt we eat every day comes from processed foods, 15 percent comes from cooking and 10 percent from natural foods.

Fruits and Vegetables to the Rescue

How can fruits and vegetables help you in this messy state of affairs?

Here is how:

  • Fruits and vegetables are very low in sodium. The sodium content of a piece of fruit ranges from 0 to 5 and from 1 to 70 milligrams in vegetables. An average portion of vegetables contains about 10 milligrams of sodium. At the same time, when you eat fruits and vegetables, you are replacing other foods in your meals that may be high in sodium.
  •  Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium. Potassium is a mineral that plays a key role in heart functions and muscle contractions, making it an important nutrient for a normal heart (remember the heart is a muscle). Potassium works with sodium to regulate the water balance in the body. Diets low in sodium and high in potassium lower blood pressure, which reduces the risk for strokes¹.
  • Fruits and vegetables are rich in calcium and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium are extremely important to maintaining normal blood pressure because they are required for nerve transmission and regulation of heart muscle function. Many studies have shown that as we increase the consumption of foods with a high content of calcium, the risk of high blood pressure decreases, especially if we maintain adequate intakes of magnesium.

Now you know one of the main reasons why you need to eat fruits and vegetables. Of course, there are many more reasons to include them in your daily life, but we’ll talk about them another time. Thus, no matter how busy you may be, find the time to include them in your daily meals. The most practical way to do it is:

 Have a piece of fruit for dessert after your main 3 meals.

  • Have a piece of fruit or some veggies as snack if you are hungry during the day.
  • Have your veggies as part of your main dish with your two main meals.
  • Eat salads with your meals. And by salads I don’t mean macaroni or potato salad.

Conclusion

Making fruits and vegetables part of a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity as well as a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can work wonders for you when it comes to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Remember, prevention is better than cure.

References:
1. Ding EL, Mozaffarian D. Optimal dietary habits for the prevention of stroke. Seminars in Neurology. 2006 Feb;26(1):11-23

Written by: Emilia Klapp

About the author:

Emilia Klapp has a Bachelor in Nutrition Science and is certified as a Registered Dietitian by the American Dietetic Association. With her book “Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet”, she has helped many people to prevent high blood pressure and high cholesterol. For more information about the author and the book you can login at www.Mediterraneanheart.com.




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