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Take The "Pressure" Off!

On the Heels of Halloween/Thanksgiving and the busy Holiday Season Fast approaching, many of us are soon to abandon our regular exercise routine. Unfortunately, in many cases Fitness Routines are replaced with poor eating patterns laden with Sugar, Salt, Cholesterol and Fat. Less exercise and increased food consumption is a double “Whammy!

Many of us are well schooled in the danger of Consuming excessive amounts of high Fat food. Although it is important to limit the amount of fat you consume, many of us are unaware of the negative effects a diet high in sugar and salt can have on our weight and our health. One such negative effect is high blood pressure (hypertension). High Blood Pressure has long been linked to increased risk of Heart Attack, Stroke and more. Before you trade in your exercise program for a Holiday Season of poor eating, consider the long term consequences.

A recent client presented as overweight, and newly diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension). His physician not only recommended weight loss, but also wanted to prescribe multiple medications. Since this was a recent diagnosis (which did not present at a Doctor’s visit in previous months) the Physician agreed to give the client an opportunity to manage his blood pressure on his own. (Please Note - this decision can only be made by a physician and is dependent on the severity of the hypertension and condition of the individual.)

Although it is possible to wean off medication as blood pressure is managed over time, in many cases blood pressure medication continues long term and sometimes lifelong. My Client (Bob) wanted to avoid medication if possible, so he set out to manage his blood pressure naturally. The physician cleared him for mild to moderate exercise (based upon the individual), and sent him on his way with an appointment to return in 3 weeks for reevaluation.

Upon first interview with Bob, I learned that a typical breakfast for him was a sugared cereal and a glass of chocolate milk. Lunch (since he was on the go) was typically – pizza, a hot dog or sometimes a soup and sandwich. Additionally, on average there were 2-3 glasses of iced tea or other soft drink per day. Snacks were often chips, pretzels and an occasional candy bar. Dinner, was much better, a lean meat – starch and a vegetable. Alcohol consumption was occasional.

Since, bodyweight, as well as sodium, caffeine and alcohol consumption (and of course saturated fat and cholesterol) all significantly affect blood pressure – Bob’s daily food/beverage choices seemed the best place to start. Along with a mild exercise program, Bob agreed to make some dietary changes. A Dietician can be of significant benefit, so after checking with one – here is what we managed to workout.

The sugary Cereal at breakfast was replaced with shredded wheat or oatmeal (read the label – zero sugar zero sodium). Bob added a ½ of banana and ¼ cup of (raw – unsalted) almonds. The chocolate milk had to go (sugar and caffeine) – instead he had a cup of decaf coffee with just a splash of flavored creamer (less than 1 gm saturated fat, zero sodium, zero cholesterol and 2.5 gms sugar). He also added a multi-vitamin daily.

His mid morning snack was an orange. Lunch was more typically grilled chicken or turkey on light bread (sodium is only 70mg/slice as opposed to most breads which contained closer to 200mgs/slice). The bread didn’t seem to taste much different, was really just a bit thinner than most which probably accounted for the lower calories and sodium content.

Later day snacks were unsalted popcorn or ¼ cup almonds. Dinner remained pretty much the same. He paid more attention to portion sizes and avoided prepackaged foods or canned vegetables since they are all loaded with sodium. Evening Snack was a “Healthy Choice” brand fudge bar. Please note these are merely a few examples of what worked for him. His diet contained a wide variety of foods. Your dietary choices should be tailored to your needs.

Bob originally thought soup and salad was a healthy meal, but the labels show most canned soups contain over 600 mgs of sodium in just one serving. Many of the salad dressings are high in fat and contain 350-700mgs of sodium in just 2 tablespoons. That doesn’t leave room for much else if you are looking to stay between 1500 and 2300mgs of sodium per day. (see the DASH eating plan - a dietary plan for reducing blood pressure @ http://dashdiet.org/default.asp)

The sugary soft drinks had to go. Bob now drinks plenty of water and naturally flavored seltzer. An occasional soft drink can be tolerated, but consuming 2, 3 and sometimes 4 per day had him exceeding recommended sugar levels.

Exercise, was 4 days per week for 30 minutes. Considering hypertension, workouts were mostly cardiovascular in nature. We avoided overhead lifting, used light weights and did lots of circuit training.

After 3 weeks Bob dropped 10 lbs. I know we typically recommend a weight loss of only 2 lbs per week, but calculations showed that Bob had dropped more than 4 lbs of water (as per measured on a bioelectrical impedance scale) and a little more that 5 lbs of fat. That had him well within recommended levels. His high sodium diet had him retaining a great deal of water and reducing his sodium intake released a good amount of water.

He returned to the doctor and his blood pressure had dropped enough for the Dr. to grant him a few more weeks of self management. (Remember – the Physician, and only the physician can safely make this determination.) After 3 additional weeks Bob dropped another 7 lbs (for a total of 17 lbs). His blood pressure was within normal range and the Physician deemed no medication necessary at this time.

Bob had been consuming far too much sugar which was keeping extra weight on him. His sodium content had him retaining far too much water. Originally the Dr. would have prescribed a diuretic along with an antihypertension medication, but Bob’s weight loss brought him success on all counts.

Presently, as this Holiday Season approaches, he continues to lose weight, at a somewhat slower rate. Bob will check in with the Dietician for further recommendations and eventually some maintenance advice. His Blood pressure and weight are within healthy ranges. He is still medication “FREE”. He continues to exercise, and we have constructed a plan to fit his Holiday schedule. As of our last workout he reports to that he is not going hungry and is not feeling deprived at all. By reading the labels he has been able to make better choices and avoid unnecessary food traps. He has worked some of his favorite, and less healthy food choices into the mix, but has limited portions and also managed to find tasty satisfying versions.

Next time you are in the Food Store – pick up a few of your favorite foods and read the label. Check the fats, and saturated fats. Compare the sodium and sugar levels. Not only will you be surprised how high some of them are, I bet you will also notice a significant difference in many brands of the same product. Be sure to pay close attention to serving size as often they are much smaller than we think.

For more information on label reading go to: http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm

For more information on daily sugar intake go to: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm455837.htm

For more information regarding sodium intake go to:

For further information on reducing blood pressure through nutrition go to: http://dashdiet.org/default.asp for the “DASH” Diet I referred to earlier.

Get your Holiday Exercise plan in place and by January you can be enjoying a Happy Healthy New Year!

More than ever, a physician’s approval is the place to start.

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LORI HODGKINSONSenior Correspondent

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