Ask the dietitian: How to lower high blood pressure with five livesaving steps

Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet for both their nutritional value, and their ability to fill you up.
Q: I just found out that my doctor wants to look at my heart. I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I know I need to change my diet, but how? Are there any heart healthy foods out there?

A: Wow! Sounds like it's time to get you straight before you get inaugurated into the "zipper club," which, is the exclusive club of the cardiac bypass patients.

First, let's look at the issue of high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. When it's too high, the heart is working harder than it should. If uncontrolled, it can lead to heart and kidney disease and stroke.

To get blood pressure under control, you need to do five things: Lose weight if you are overweight; become physically active; limit alcohol; choose foods low in salt and sodium; and follow the DASH diet. If you are worried about high cholesterol, guess what? You have to do the same five things.

Weight loss tips

Let's start with the weight loss. I'll be honest with you; dietitians are not "nutrition magicians." We can only tell you what to do, the true motivational magic comes from within -- or being strapped to an EKG machine, whichever comes first. Kidding aside, you will never lose weight and achieve your goal unless you are willing to work hard. Notice I didn't say starve.

The most important issue is portion control. You have to measure your food to see how much you are really eating, and remember some portion sizes are listed as raw while others are listed as cooked. This can make a difference between feeling hungry and full.

You also have to eat fruits and vegetables. Why? Because they are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals to clear blocked arteries, they are low in calories, and take a lot of chewing. Thus, they will slow you down when you are really hungry. If you start at the cookie jar, you could eat an entire dinner's worth of calories in just 10 cookies.

It's also important to eat your fruits and vegetables while you are cooking dinner or before you leave the office to go home, because if you walk in the house hungry, it becomes a free-for-all. Besides, you won't believe how good they taste when you are hungry. Most people make the mistake of serving fruits and vegetables with the dinner, which, when put next to the meat and potatoes, usually get their marching orders back to the refrigerator or into the trash, so eat them first when they have no competition.

Last, drink lots of water and watch your sodium intake. Many people mistake thirst for hunger and eat a snack when a simple drink of water would do. If you are told to limit sodium, start by reading labels. Keep the sodium at a 1,000 mg per meal or 3,000 per day. Sodium is mostly found in processed foods so try not to eat out of the box or can as much; use fresh and some frozen foods.

Flavorful tips

As far as heart-healthy foods, I'll give you a few of my favorite picks that help keep the flavor. Use Crisco butter flavor non-stick spray to make grilled cheese (with Veggie Slices cheese) or any grilled sandwich. Just spray it directly on the bread and heat it in a frying pan. You won't believe how buttery and crispy it tastes without the extra calories. I also like the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spray for vegetables, potatoes, and eggs.

Also try the Prince Healthy Harvest whole-wheat spaghetti. It's high fiber and actually turns a lighter color when you cook it, so don't be discouraged by the brown color. After you put sauce on it, you will forget it's actually good for you.

And don't mess with colonic cleansing. It can be very dangerous; let your body use it's own internal cleaning crew, they are highly trained and don't like outside cleaning companies invading their space or they may go on strike in a very bad way!

Honna Kozik is a registered dietitian in private practice at the Health Motivation Center in Valparaiso, IN. Contact her at

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