B lood pressure rises and falls during the day. When it stays elevated over time, it’s called high blood pressure or hypertension. Hypertension can be dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard, and the force of its blood flow can harm arteries. Use these 5 easy steps to help control blood pressure.

Step 1: Eat 5-a-day
According to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in December last year, the participants over the age of 40 had lower blood pressures if their diet was higher in fruit, vegetables and legumes.

Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. These foods are naturally higher in potassium. Increasing the amount of this mineral in one’s diet through food can be an unsung hero to help lower your blood pressure!

Step 2: Eat dairy
Higher intakes of calcium may help to decrease your blood pressure. Food sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt, fortified orange juice, fortified soy milk, fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables and tofu.

There is also some evidence that the live cultures (probiotics) in yoghurt may help lower blood pressure. Aim to eat at least two portions of low fat dairy products per day.

Step 3: Cut the salt
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa recommends a daily limit of no more than one teaspoon (6g) of salt or 2400mg of sodium. “Hidden salt” in processed foods represents 65-80% of our intake of salt with only 15% coming from the salt we add at the table. Limit your intake of processed foods, and foods with high salt content such as potato crisps and biltong.

Read labels of products for ‘sodium’ content before you purchase. Aiming for products with no more than 120 mg of sodium per 100g is the better choice.

Rather use herbs and spices and enjoy the natural flavour of food. Alternatives can include pepper, salt-free spices, vinegar, lemon juice, fresh ginger, fresh ground horseradish, hot pepper sauce, garlic, onion powder, fruit and fruit juices and homemade salad dressings without added salt.

Step 4: Load up on healthy fats
Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods in the diet may also help reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension. The International Study of Macro- and Micro-nutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP) published in 2007, included 4680 men and women ages 40 to 59 from China, Japan, United Kingdom, and United States. The results showed that omega-3 was associated with a drop in blood pressure.

Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, flaxseed, canola oil and walnuts. Aim to eat at least two hand-palm sized servings of oily fish each week.

Step 5: Chocolate every day
Dark chocolate is rich in cocoa and cocoa contains plant nutrients called flavanols. According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, eating one block of dark chocolate each day over 18 weeks helped to decrease blood pressure and lowered the risk for stroke and heart disease.

Now, drop a bit of sunshine into the mix (it’s in the Vitamin D), control your alcohol intake and bump up your activity – not only will you feel better, but your blood pressure is sure to drop.

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