Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Diet For Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

I just came from a doctor's appointment and was told to "watch what I eat" because I am getting borderline high blood pressure and high cholesterol. With all the conflicting information I never know what really is good to eat and good to stay away from ... do I need to stay away from salt? Should I eat oat bran muffins for my cholesterol? I'm quite confused. --Thanks, Tim J.

Dear Tim,

If your doctor didn't put you on medication for either your blood pressure or your cholesterol, there's a good chance you can affect both of these readings by changing your diet.

A low salt diet (about 2000 milligrams of sodium per day) does help lower blood pressure in some people, but not everyone. Surprisingly, most of the sodium we get in our diet comes from processed foods (frozen, packaged, and especially canned) and fast foods. So it doesn't mean you can never add a pinch of salt to season your food again. You'll have to start reading food labels for sodium content if you don't do this already. Aim for about 700 milligrams of sodium per meal (to total about 2000 per day) so you don't have to count and track every single milligram you eat all day.

A good resource for a reputable blood pressure-lowering diet is

For high levels of LDL (the 'bad' cholesterol) a diet high in soluble fiber helps many people lower their level by as much as 30 points. Oat bran muffins are one source, but the commercial varieties are often scant in oat bran and high in fat, cancelling out any of the benefits of the fiber. If you make your own you can use less oil and even substitute some of it with applesauce or other pureed fruits. Other good sources are oatmeal and oat-based cereals (such as Cheerios). You would need to have several servings a day of these foods, according to most studies, to see the cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary soluble fiber.

Lowering intake of dietary saturated fat also helps many people produce less cholesterol. This type of fat is mostly found in animal products, such as meats (especially fatty cuts, like marbled red meats, bacon, sausage, hot dogs), and whole milk dairy products. Coconut and Palm oil also contain saturated fats and are rarely used in commercial products anymore for this reason.

For lowering both cholesterol and blood pressure, getting closer to your ideal weight helps, and regular exercise helps you with all three of these goals!

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