Wednesday, December 5, 2018

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Lowering High Blood Pressure

“I began to read all I could about health when my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer.  Everything I read seemed to point me toward a simple equation:  Food=Health.  I read The China Study, Farm Sanctuary by Gene Bauer, books by Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Neal Barnard, and many more.  I realized the untested chemicals used in processed foods and the residue of pesticides and many fertilizers had to be hurting us.  I began to notice that my animals were developing lumps and bumps that I don’t remember them having when I was growing up.  I knew then that it was time to make some changes.”  
                                   --Cornelia Guest from Simple Pleasures:  Healthy Seasonal Cooking and Easy Entertaining, 2012

The more salt you consume, the higher your blood pressure will be.  

In our Growing Healthy Kids classes, kids learn to read food labels to look for hidden sodium and sugars.  Salt used to be primarily used to preserve foods.  Now it is used not only to flavor foods but to replace reduced fats or sugars.  If you see something labeled “low fat” be suspicious that it may have a higher sodium content.

One of the author's favorite low sodium foods
Photo credit:  Barbara DuPont
The goal for most people, especially kids, is to keep daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg.  That is about 2/3 teaspoon of salt.  One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,500 mg of sodium. 

Salt is like high blood pressure in some ways.  Often, you don’t taste salt in foods so you don't know it's there. Similarly, people with high blood pressure often have no symptoms and don’t know they have it.  

Most American children are not screened for hypertension.  Pediatricians don’t commonly ask how often their young patients eat processed foods or fast foods.  Kids who consume processed foods, meat, and dairy are at high risk for increased blood pressure.  Cheese, for example, is extremely high in sodium.  Most Americans consume about 30 pounds of cheese a year.  A one inch cube of Cabot's Seriously Sharp Cheddar Cheese contains 180 mg of sodium. Foods you wouldn’t think of as having salt in them often have several hundred milligrams. One hot dog can have 500-600 mg of sodium.  That is one-third of the daily limit for one person!   

On the other hand, one cup of strawberries has about 1.5 mg of sodium.  

Adopting a plant-based way of eating is one way to lower one’s blood pressure.  A resource for parents is the Physicians Committee for Responsible medicine ( or click here).

My advice to parents?  Take a look at the sodium that your children are consuming in what they eat and drink every day.  Make it a priority to find ways to reduce it. 

In gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids