Fact Sheet: High Blood Pressure

Written on the 21 January 2015

Blood pressure refers to the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps
blood into the arteries which carry the blood throughout the body. If your blood pressure is high, it
puts a strain on your blood vessels. It can also damage your heart, which has to work harder
pumping blood at such high pressure around the body. This damage can lead to heart failure and can
increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular diseases which include strokes, heart
attacks and heart failure. High blood pressure is also the second leading cause of chronic kidney
failure.

Nearly 30% of Australians have high blood pressure, and over half of these people are unaware that
they have it.

What causes high blood pressure?

Impact of carrying extra weight

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a priority if you have high blood pressure. Excess body
weight and high blood pressure are closely linked. Even losing 5kg can reduce your blood pressure.
Where you carry your extra weight is also a factor when it comes to blood pressure. Carrying excess
weight around your middle is more of a problem when it comes to increased blood pressure than
excess weight carried on your hips and thighs.

Weight loss can also enhance the effectiveness of blood pressure-lowering medication.

Exercise

Regular physical activity is a key component to managing your blood pressure. Exercise can also help
you maintain a healthy body weight, which in turn will assist with the management of high blood
pressure. 

To effectively lower your blood pressure, aim to spend at least 30 to 45 minutes participating in
moderate intensity physical activity on most, but preferably all days of the week. By following the
Thirty Day Challenge, you will be well on the way to ensuring you include enough activity
every day.

Diet and Blood Pressure

What you eat can have a significant effect on the development of high blood pressure. In particular,
a diet high in salt and alcohol, along with being overweight, can increase blood pressure over time.
On the other hand, consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products and low
in salt and saturated fat, along with maintaining a healthy body weight, will decrease blood
pressure. The following sections provide more specific advice on how to manage your blood
pressure through dietary changes.

What is the difference between sodium and salt?

Salt is made up of both sodium and chloride and it is the sodium in salt which affects your blood
pressure. This means that sodium is the item on food labels that you need to look out for when
trying to choose low salt products.

How does salt increase blood pressure?

There are several mechanisms involved in the relationship between salt and blood pressure. One of
these mechanisms is that excess salt in the diet will increase the sodium level of your blood. This in
turn results in your blood vessels retaining more water to try to keep the salt concentration
balanced.

This extra water increases the amount of blood in our vessels causing high blood pressure. Several
other mechanisms have also been suggested to contribute and these include a reduction in the
amount of sodium that can be excreted in the urine, fluid retention, increased activity in specific
nerves, changes in the body's ability to maintain its own blood pressure, and changes in some
muscles' function.

Research shows that reducing your sodium intake by 25-35% can reduce the risk of heart attack and
stroke by 20%.

Recommended intakes of sodium per day

The adequate intake (AI) for sodium for adults over the age of 19 years is 460-920 mg/day. This is
enough sodium to provide the body with what it needs to function normally. The upper level of
intake (UL) for sodium is 2,300 mg/day. The average intake for the Australian population is 2,150 mg
of sodium per day from an average of 5.5grams of salt.

To achieve a daily intake of 920 2300 mg of sodium:

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Choose low-salt breads and cereals (<120mg sodium per 100g) © Studio Pilates International® - It is important that before beginning any diet or fitness regime, you consult with your health care professional to ensure that you are mindful of your current health and any restrictions that are appropriate for you. You should immediately seek medical attention if there are any unanticipated changes to your physical condition at any time.
  • Minimise seasonings, processed foods and takeaway foods which are high in salt. Examples include chicken salt, soy sauce, 2-minute noodles with flavour sachet, canned soup, preprepared frozen meals, takeaway Asian stir-fry and meat pies.
  • Do not add salt during cooking or at the dinner table; and
  • Choose low-salt packaged foods (foods with a sodium content of <120mg/100g).

Alcohol

There is a strong connection between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. While small
amounts of alcohol consumed regularly can reduce the risk of heart disease, alcohol is high in
kilojoules and can contribute to weight gain or slow down your efforts to lose weight.
By reducing alcohol intake, blood pressure can be reduced substantially. You can experience a
significant fall in your blood pressure for each standard drink (10g alcohol) removed from your daily
intake.

If you have high blood pressure, aim to restrict your intake to less than one standard drink for
women and less than two standard drinks for men per day, with at least two alcohol-free days each
week or even better....eliminate the alcohol all together!

Label reading

It's important to read the label on foods and drinks when looking for lower salt products. This will
allow you to easily compare different brands of the same food.

All manufactured foods have a nutrition information panel. Amongst other nutrients, the sodium
content of the food will be listed. A low salt product will have less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.
Anything over 500mg of sodium per 100g indicates the food is high in sodium and is best consumed
in small amounts or avoided.

Food manufacturers often make claims about certain nutrients they wish to highlight in their
product (e.g. low fat, high calcium, etc). The claims made on food labels are guided by the Food
Standards Code and a Code of Practice so that the same claim on a different food has the same
meaning. A "salt-reduced" product must contain at least 25% less sodium than the standard product
and also be lower than 600mg sodium per 100g. A 'low salt' product must contain <120mg sodium
per 100g. A "no added salt" product must contain less than 5mg sodium per 100g and a drink less
than 2.5mg sodium per 100g.

Saturated fat

It's important to limit saturated fat in the diet to optimise blood pressure lowering. Reducing the
intake of saturated fat is also widely recommended for the prevention of heart disease.
The major sources of saturated fat in the diet are full fat dairy products (milk, cheese and yoghurt),
meat and poultry products and dishes (chicken skin, sausages, salami, etc), biscuits and pastries, and
fats such as butter and cream.

Minimise these foods and look for alternatives such as low fat milk and yoghurt, lean meat and
chicken, nuts, fruits and vegetables and use healthy oils such as canola, sunflower and olive oil for
cooking and food preparation.

Protein

Recent research has suggested that if you have high blood pressure, you may benefit from a
moderately higher protein intake from both animal (meats, eggs, dairy) and plant sources (legumes,
nuts, seeds). Sometimes a higher protein intake can also be beneficial for weight loss. Try including
protein rich foods with each meal while still maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

Fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy

Many studies have shown that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and increasing dairy intake can
help manage blood pressure. This is likely a result of the nutrients found in these foods, and in
particular potassium and calcium. Aim to include at least 2 serves of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables and
2-3 serves of low fat dairy foods daily.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for general heart health and may help manage blood pressure.
There are two sources of omega-3 fatty acids: animal and plant. Both are beneficial in providing
protection for the heart.

Animal sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish, seafood and lean red meat. Plant sources of
omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, linseeds and soy beans.

The suggested dietary target for men is 610mg/day and 430mg/day for women.

General dietary recommendations

  • Include plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
  • Choose lean meat and oily fish.
  • Choose foods low in salt.
  • Include nuts, seeds and soy products.
  • Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods.
  • Enjoy alcohol in moderation.

While on the Thirty Day Challenge, consult your doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian for
specific advice regarding your dietary requirements