My entire life I have struggled with high blood pressure, however I have learned to maintain it at a healthy level without depriving myself of the things I love.
I have grown up around food; so of course, it wasn’t a surprise when I finally decided to open up my own restaurant and share an archive of richly made cuisine and ethnic specialties. However, when we adopt eating habits that include these types of foods--Italian for me--your health and wellness start to become an issue. Increasing amounts of sodium, along with a lack of time to spare for exercise, drove my blood pressure through the roof.
Today, I have had to really rearrange my life to incorporate all of the things I need to maintain my blood pressure at a healthy level. It's been a challenge with my busy school schedule, and the fact that I have been skipping meals on top of that--well you see where I was headed. After a long conversation with my friend who's a medical doctor, and my father who's a self-proclaimed exercise junkie, I found the perfect combination of food and exercise that helped me hit my targets for optimum wellness.
Don't Skip Meals
Did you know that skipping meals can actually cause higher blood pressure? To put it simply, when you start skipping meals, it throws off every aspect of your body. For many, like myself, I would get even more agitated when faced with minor issues, therefore causing a peak in blood pressure. Not only that, when I did sit down to eat my one meal of the day, I would eat over 2000 calories in one sitting, and out of the total calories I had consumed, most of them were flooded with sodium.
So what did I do?
I started eating six meals a day. My first meal of the day would usually consist of oatmeal, raisins, and a little skim milk. It doesn't sound that tasty, but trust me, oatmeal is proven to lower blood pressure, and I'm not talking amount instant oatmeal that's filled with sugar from the package that you just add water to. I mean Quaker Oatmeal that's low in sodium and is heart-healthy.
I also cut out egg yolks. Now I strictly use eggs whites, and trust me, it wasn't that hard to ween myself off of regular eggs.
For lunch, I started eating salads, tuna with low sodium mayonaise; cheese and crackers (Sharp Cheddar is great with Wheat Thins--Mmmm); low sodium soups-there's something that's extremely hard to find.
For dinner, most of the time it's a light pasta recipe that only uses Olive oil, a bit of broth, and fresh vegetables.I stopped using canned or jarred tomato sauces because of the high content levels of sodium. To be honest, I think I got a bit lazy not making my own after the restaurants, due to lack of time and fresh ingredients.
Stop Eating Processed Food from the Middle Aisles of the Grocery Store, and Shop on the Perimeter
This was a difficult task for me, as I'm sure it will be for many of you. I had to actually stop myself from shopping the inner isles of the supermarket. If you think about, that's were every article of food that contains high fats, high sodium, high sugar and carbs, and high calories tend to be found. If you stick to the perimeter of the supermarket, you will actually find everthing you need to keep your blood pressure down, lose some weight, and maintain healthy levels of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in your body.
I would suggest staying clear of some red meat cuts found on the perimeter, especially ribeyes and rib roasts, skirt and hanger steaks, TBones, and Porterhouse. Round cuts are the best, considering the animal tends to more exercised and leaner in that area. The Filet Mignon, although many people--like myself don't care for them--is also a great choice for a lean meat. Just remember, the more the fat marbling, the better the flavor, the more weight you will gain. It's sad but true!
Cut Down on Caffeine and Higher-Sodium Drinks-Don't Completely Stop
This goes for diet soda, coffee, regular soda, Powerade, Energy Drinks, and some caffeinated teas that are not natural or organic. I am a religous coffee drinker, however I replaced my coffee with organic tea and sparkling water. I haven't cut myself off completely, I mean are you crazy? I still have a couple cups a week, but nowhere near what I was consuming.
As for soda, you have to let it go. Whether it's diet or regular, the combination of the sodium and carbon allows for the expansion in your stomach. Furthermore, it eats away the lining of your stomach and causes ulcers. People have a sore spot when it comes to diet soda, and I know some of you are religious soda drinkers; however, those diet sodas are just as bad as regular no matter what the calories. According to Dr. Lovell at Daytona State College, diet soda fools your body into thinking that you're not consuming sugar, however your body is smart and it will seek out the Nutrasweet and convert it to fat.
Powerdrinks are filled with high energy, heart-pumping, blood-pressure-increasing energy which can lead directly to a heart attack if not used in moderation. Of course, it would be virtually impossible to list all of the drinks and brands that do this, so if you're not sure don't purchase them. Most of these drinks were made with atheletes in mind as the target demographic, not couch potatoes that don't make it to the gym more than once a year.
Cut Out Oil and Regular Butter
The oil you will find in my home is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and as for butter, I use I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Spray (used in moderation of course) which has 0 Fat and 0 Sodium. I haven't used real butter in over ten years and my cholesterol levels have never been better.
Olive oil is not absorbed into your system, so anything you eat with it usually gets flushed out with it. As for regular oil, Vegetable Oil is sufficient in moderation, but I would try to start cooking everything with Olive Oil.
Fiber Is Your Friend
Yes that's right, the more the merrier! Fiber scrapes the inside of the lining of your stomach and takes with it food debris that may have hung out a bit longer without the added help of this little debris-scraping devil.
Try adding some of these food items to your diet at least 4 times a week:
- Quaker Oats Oatmeal
- Whole Grain pasta
- Fiber One or All Bran Cereal
- Dried Fruits with Low Sugar
- Apples with skin
- Kidney beans, lima beans, black-eyed beans, chick peas and lentils
- Swiss chard
- Green peas
Cardiovascular Exercise At Least 4 times a week
Yes, that's right! Four times a week, not three. Personally, I prefer brisk walking which is by far the best exercise for lowering blood pressure. You need to stay away from weight machines, especially machines that use heavy resistence. For women, you shouldn't exceed over 10 lbs of free weights. As for men, and this is from my father who also suffers from high blood pressure, he uses up to 30 lbs and that's it. He's in better shape now than he was when he was 20, so trust me it works!
Recipes for Low Blood Pressure
Here are some of my recipes from my restaurant vault to get you started. Yes, they are all Italian, but I'll give you a bit of a tip. Italian is versatile, and with the addition of fresh vegetables, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and tons of garlic which is proven to lower blood pressure, you have all the right choices in your corner.
Garlic Flatbread with Roasted Garlic and Sundried Tomato Spinach Toss
Chef Lauren's Osso Bucco
Chef Laurens Sicilian Style Penne Mediterranean Pasta
Note: All of these tips listed helped me lower my blood pressure from 151 over 90 to 120 over 60. My cholesterol levels were over the 200 mark and now they are running steady at 160.