By Dr. Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici (Diagnostic Radiographer & Medical Doctor) & Dr. Antonella Grima (Public Health Specialist & State Registered Nutritionist)
1) Which readings constitute high blood pressure and what causes it?
High blood pressure is defined as a repeatedly elevated blood pressure in the arteries exceeding 140/90 mmHg. The systolic reading correlates to the maximum pressure sustained when the heart contracts, whilst the diastolic reading reflects the minimum pressure when the heart relaxes in between successive beats.
In almost all contemporary societies, blood pressure rises with aging and the risk of becoming hypertensive in later life is considerable. High blood pressure can either be classified as primary, whereby no specific underlying medical cause is found in around 90-95% of cases or as secondary, in the remaining 5-10% of the cases, where it is caused by other pre-existing conditions that affect the kidneys, arteries, heart or the endocrine system.
2) How is this condition diagnosed and what are its implications on our health, if left untreated?
High blood pressure is rarely accompanied by any symptoms, hence the reason behind the term ‘silent killer’. Its identification is usually through seeking healthcare advice for an unrelated problem. Having said that, certain people with an elevated blood pressure may still report headaches, lightheadedness, tinnitus, or altered vision as their chief presenting complaints.
In addition, long-standing, uncontrolled high blood pressure has serious health implications as it is a major risk factor for cardiovascular events. Such condition puts a significant amount of strain on the heart, possibly leading to the abnormal thickening of the myocardium and coronary artery disease. This condition is also a major risk factor for stroke, aortic aneurysm, peripheral arterial disease, abnormal blood vessel changes in the retina as well as chronic kidney disease. Moreover, high blood pressure may also occur in expecting mothers during pregnancy. Such a sign may be the first to indicate the development of pre-eclampsia.
3) How can one opt to control high blood pressure, or prevent its development?
There is no substitute for the regular monitoring of blood pressure, as well as incorporating a healthy lifestyle as part of our daily routine to prevent the formation of such a condition.
Dietary and lifestyle changes can improve blood pressure control and decrease the risk of health complications. Life style factors that influence blood pressure include aerobic physical activity, weight loss, reduced dietary salt intake, increased consumption of fruits, vegetables and low fat products as well as reduced alcohol and nicotine intake. Anti-hypertensive drug treatments may still be necessary in those individuals for whom such changes are not effective enough.
4) Below you can find a simple, healthy recipe that is ideal for lunch-time for those who wish to keep their blood pressure under control, along with all the nutritional benefits of each of the listed ingredients:-
Recipe: Wholegrain Pasta salad
This delicious dish requires minimal cooking and preparation time. It can be served either hot or cold. Cook the pasta for around 10 minutes (using no salt) and in the meantime prepare the raw ingredients. Mix everything together and this pasta salad is ready to serve!
Wholegrain penne, cherry tomatoes, cooked chickpeas, walnuts, mixed vegetable salad, chia seeds, a few berries, oregano, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.
Whole grains, such as wholegrain pasta, are a good source of carbohydrates, fibre and B vitamins. The incorporation of whole grains in your diet can help in avoiding sugar cravings and frequent snacking, thus optimize weight control. As a rule of thumb, a portion of grains for a main meal should be around 60g for women and 85g for men. The rest of the plate can be filled with plenty of nutritious vegetables to help in reaching satiation and keep the amount of calories in the meal on the lower end.
Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and lycopene. One of the properties of lycopene is that it helps lower blood pressure, making tomatoes excellent for keeping blood pressure under control. For tomato sauces, it is best to go for fresh tomatoes and cook the sauce from scratch. Alternatively, look for low salt canned tomatoes in order to reduce the amount of salt in the meal.
Legumes such as chickpeas are an essential part of the Mediterranean diet. They are linked to longevity and good bowel health. Legumes are a rich source of fibre, help control weight, while also improving blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Legumes are considered to be an excellent plant-based sources of protein, which serve as an alternative to meat. It is important to cook legumes from scratch using no salt or rinse canned legumes thoroughly under running water to reduce the salt content if you suffer from high blood pressure.
Nuts and seeds:
Apart from protein and fibre, nuts and seeds are also rich in anti-inflammatory omega 3 oils. Thus, they promote general well-being, lower bad cholesterol levels, and aid in the prevention of diseases related to the circulatory system, by reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. When choosing nuts, always go for unsalted options. You may oven roast them in order to enhance their flavours and add crunch.
Green leafy vegetables:
These are very low in calories and help in filling your plate, and in keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Leafy greens provide fibre, iron, calcium and folic acid. In fact they are the primary source of folic acid which helps prevent heart disease, boosts the regeneration of the nervous system, and prevents any faetal related-conditions during pregnancy, among other diseases. Leafy greens are also rich in potassium, which helps the kidneys eliminate extra sodium and keep blood pressure under control.
The use of herbs gives our food a delicious taste, while also reducing the need for using salt and sauces. All herbs impart health benefits and are rich in phytonutrients that reduce inflammation and combat diseases. Ingredients such as basil, garlic and cinnamon may also play a role in controlling blood pressure. As always, moderation is key.
Extra virgin olive oil:
Extra virgin olive oil is a source of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, and is one of the components of the Mediterranean diet. When consumed in moderation, it helps prevent heart and inflammatory diseases and contributes towards good health and longevity.
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