During my childhood and teenager years I ate fruits and vegetables because my mother told me I had to eat them. After I left my parents house, I kept eating various fruits and vegetables on a regular basis because I was used to do it (not a bad reason in this particular case).
However, when I moved from my hometown in Spain to the United States, I decided that I was too busy to eat fruits and vegetables. I was always in a rush. So a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a biscuit for lunch became the norm.
But after I lost two friends to breast cancer and one to a heart attack, I decided to engage in a career as a Registered Dietitian. I then realized that when my mother insisted that I ate the vegetables on my plate, she was offering very healthy, sage advice.
Through nutrition research I also discovered that fruits and vegetables, among many other health benefits, help us maintain our blood pressure at a healthy level.
What is high blood pressure and why is important to prevent it?
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:
1. Causes the walls of the arteries to thicken, a condition that reduces the blood flow.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 can you do to keep a healthy blood pressure?
– Be physically active
– Limit sodium (salt) in your diet
– Dont smoke
– Avoid high alcohol consumption
– Maintain an appropriate body weigh
Why can sodium be a problem?
Sodium can be a problem because 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? Your 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 lots 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.
So How Can Fruits and Vegetables Maintain Low Blood Pressure?
– 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 that you know one of the main reasons why you need to eat fruits and vegetables, would you find the time to include them in your daily diet? Here are some practical ways to help you do it:
1. Have a piece of fruit for dessert after your main 3 meals.
2. Have a piece of fruit or some veggies as snack if you are hungry during the day.
3. Have your veggies as part of your main dish with your two main meals.
4. Eat salads with your meals. And by salads I dont mean macaroni or potato salad.
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.
1. Ding EL, Mozaffarian D. Optimal dietary habits for the prevention of stroke. Seminars in Neurology. 2006 Feb;26(1):11-23