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The Great Physician's Rx for High Blood Pressure
By Jordan Rubin, Joseph Brasco
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Jordan Rubin
All rights reserved.
Eat to Live
When football great Joe Montana learned he had high blood pressure, he joked that his kids employed a "zone defense" to keep him from reaching for the salt shaker at the family dinner table.
As mentioned in the Introduction, it'll take a lot more than hiding the salt shaker to lower your intake of sodium, which is the first thing doctors suggest when you have high blood pressure. The way I view things, anyone with hypertension who circles a buffet table before an afternoon NFL doubleheader should be gang-tackled because most snack foods—zesty tortilla chips, salted popcorn, wedges of imported cheese, or sliced wieners with toothpicks—contain high levels of sodium.
Sodium is a ubiquitous ingredient found in zillions of boxed, packaged, frozen, and bagged foods—such as pretzels and potato chips—but it's also hidden in many processed foods like ketchup and salad dressing. Even something sweet can have sodium: a grande Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino contains 310 milligrams of sodium, and one Krispy Kreme Glazed Chocolate Cake doughnut has 310 milligrams, or around 15 percent of your daily allowance. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the average American eats two to three times the amount of salt that he or she should.
Reducing salt intake in your diet will be as difficult as evading a blitzing cornerback unless you adopt the first key of the Great Physician's prescription, which is "Eat to Live." This key places a heavy emphasis on doing two things:
1. Eating what God created for food.
2. Eating food in a form that is healthy for the body.
Following these two vital concepts will give you a great chance to emerge victorious in your quest to push down those high blood pressure levels and put you on the road toward living a healthy, vibrant life.
To successfully lower your intake of sodium, you will have to be intentional about what you eat from this day forward, especially if your diet is high in processed foods. That's where more than 80 percent of the sodium in most people's diets comes from. I'm convinced that too many people coast through life without thinking longer than a TV timeout about the significance of what they're eating, which is why we're having a national problem with high blood pressure. Most folks blithely eat their favorite snacks and comfort foods, largely unaware that too much sodium—especially the "inorganic" kind—causes blood pressure to rise, which makes their hearts work progressively harder to pump enough blood to the body's tissues and organs.
Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of modern media, which often broadcasts—especially during football games—alluring and effective commercials for a variety of high-sodium foods, including deep-dish, stuffed-crust, double-cheese Italian sausage pizza, for example. Before you know it, you're calling Domino's during halftime and asking them to deliver a large hand-tossed MeatZZa Feast pizza to your front door. Just two slices—or one-fourth of a large pizza—contains 1,620 milligrams of sodium, or 70 percent of the recommended daily amount.
The American Heart Association recommends that most people limit their daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. That's tough to follow since the standard American diet—boxed cereal or ham and eggs in the morning, cheeseburger and salty fries for lunch, and a take-out pepperoni pizza and toasted garlic bread for dinner—contains way too much sodium, something in the order of 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams a day.
Some Better Choices
Salt is not Public Enemy #1. We need salt in the human diet for balanced bodily fluids and efficient muscle nerve function. The problem is we're getting too much salt from too many processed, frozen, or fast foods.
When it comes to lowering your intake of sodium, I don't think you can go wrong by eating any of the following foods on this comprehensive list compiled by my friend Rex Russell, M.D., in his book What the Bible Says About Healthy Living. I'm reprinting them here, along with the scriptural references, because many people aren't aware that the Bible is an excellent source of information about good nutrition and healthy living.
As you scan through this list, ask yourself if these are foods that you regularly eat:
almonds (Gen. 43:11)
barley (Judg. 7:13)
beans (Ezek. 4:9)
bread (1 Sam. 17:17)
broth (Judg. 6:19)
cakes (2 Sam. 13:8, and probably not the kind with frosting)
cheese (Job 10:10)
cucumbers, onions, leeks, melons, and garlic (Num. 11:5)
curds of cow's milk (Deut. 32:14)
figs (Num. 13:23)
fish (Matt. 7:10)
fowl (1 Kings 4:23)
fruit (2 Sam. 16:2)
game (Gen. 25:28)
goat's milk (Prov. 27:27)
grain (Ruth 2:14)
grapes (Deut. 23:24)
grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets (Lev. 11:22)
herbs (Exod. 12:8)
honey (Isa. 7:15) and wild honey (Ps. 19:10)
lentils (Gen. 25:34)
meal (Matt. 13:33 KJV)
pistachio nuts (Gen. 43:11)
oil (Prov. 21:17)
olives (Deut. 28:40)
pomegranates (Num. 13:23)
quail (Num. 11:32)
raisins (2 Sam. 16:1)
salt (Job 6:6)
sheep (Deut. 14:4)
sheep's milk (Deut. 32:14)
spices (Gen. 43:11)
veal (Gen. 18:7-8)
vegetables (Prov. 15:17)
vinegar (Num. 6:3)
When eaten in their natural forms and without processing, these foods that God created are naturally low in sodium and high in fiber. Many are also high in potassium, which is an important distinction for those with high blood pressure. While excessive consumption of dietary sodium is the main culprit of high blood pressure, numerous studies have shown that those with hypertension are also deficient in their intake of potassium, an electrolyte (or mineral salt) that's important to the human nervous system and heart, kidney, and adrenal functions. Insufficient potassium can exaggerate the effects of sodium, and the first sign of a potassium deficiency is a general feeling of malaise, or weakness.
If you eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables—like the ones described by Dr. Russell—you'll most likely have sufficient potassium in your diet. The Duke University Medical Center and the American Kidney Foundation recommend the following high potassium foods when fighting high blood pressure:
all meats, especially poultry and fish
oranges and orange juice
potatoes (not fried, of course)
A different dietary approach is more favored by doctors, though. It's called the DASH Eating Plan—DASH, standing for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—and it was formulated after two studies conducted by scientists working for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) established a clear link between diet and the development of high blood pressure. The DASH Eating Plan is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat. The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products and also includes whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts, while reducing the consumption of red meat, sweets, and sugar-containing beverages. The DASH plan is based on a person eating 2,000 calories a day.
As an example, the DASH diet recommends eating an eight-ounce steak while upping the consumption of fruits and vegetables instead of digging into a sixteen-ounce steak topped with fried onion rings. Instead of apple pie à la mode, you enjoy a fresh fruit medley.
While I'm all for a commonsense diet calling for plenty of servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, and fish and poultry, the Great Physician's prescription for eating has some key differences. When I talk about consuming foods that God created in a form that is healthy for the body, I'm talking about choosing foods as close to the natural source as possible, which will give your body excellent sustenance, keep your blood pressure numbers in check, and give you the healthiest life possible. As you can probably figure out by now, I'm a proponent of natural foods grown organically since these are foods that God created in a form healthy for the body.
Under the DASH Eating Plan, those suffering from high blood pressure are counseled to choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products and to limit their intake of added fat to one food per meal. For instance, they could put a dab of margarine in their baked potato or slice of bread or add dressing to their salad, but they couldn't do all three things.
First of all, margarine is a no-no since it contains gobs of hydrogenated oils. In addition, certain "high fat" foods—steak, eggs, butter, and full-fat dairy products, when consumed from free-range and organic sources—contain fats that your body needs for optimal health. God, in His infinite wisdom, created certain fats to serve the following functions: play a vital role in bone health, enhance the immune system, protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins, and guard against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
The best examples of "good fats" are healthy saturated fats, omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated (omega-9) fatty acids. You can find these fats in a wide range of foods: salmon, lamb, and goat meat; grass-fed cow's, goat's, and sheep's milk and cheese; coconuts, walnuts, olives, almonds, and avocados. These fats provide us with a concentrated source of energy and are the source material for cell membranes and various hormones.
The problem with the standard American diet is that people eat too many of the wrong foods containing the wrong fats and not enough of the right foods with the right fats. Two of the top fats and oils on my list are extra virgin coconut and olive oils, which are beneficial to the body and aid metabolism. I urge you to cook with extra virgin coconut oil, which is an extremely healthy food that few people have ever heard of.
A Look at Proteins and Carbohydrates
Along with fats, two other macronutrients are important when you "Eat to Live." Proteins, which are one of the basic components of foods, are the essential building blocks of the body and involved in the function of every living cell. One of protein's main tasks is to provide specific nutrient material to grow and repair cells—especially in the body's arterial vessels.
All proteins are combinations of twenty-two amino acids, but your body cannot produce all twenty-two amino acids that you need in order to live a robust life. Scientists have discovered that eight essential amino acids are missing, meaning that they must come from sources outside the body. I know the following fact drives vegetarians and vegans crazy, but animal protein—chicken, beef, lamb, dairy, eggs, etc.—is the only complete protein source providing the Big Eight amino acids in the right quantities and ratios.
The conventional wisdom in the medical community is that animal protein contains large quantities of fat, which aggravates hypertension. Saturated fat is said to increase the level of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which can stick to the side of the arterial walls and cause high blood pressure. Consuming less red meat is often promoted as a strong first step to getting high blood pressure under control.
While we could all stand to eat less low-quality, poorly raised, and chemical-laden red meat, the best approach to keep high blood pressure in check is to consume the leanest, healthiest sources of animal protein available, which come from organically raised cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, and venison—animals that graze on pastureland grasses. Lean, grass-fed beef contains less saturated fat and less pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids than conventionally grown grain-fed beef.
I'm confident that those battling hypertension have been eating the wrong kinds of meat for many years. For instance, hamburger is a high-fat meat found in every main dish from backyard burgers to spaghetti and meatballs, but in this country, the vast majority of hamburger is comprised of ground chuck with added fat from hormone-injected cattle eating pesticide-sprayed feed laced with antibiotics.
You would be much better off eating hamburger—as well as other cuts of beef—produced from range-fed and pasture-fed cows. Natural beef is much healthier for you than assembly-line "production" cuts filling our nation's supermarket meat cases. Grass-fed beef is leaner and lower in calories than grain-fed beef, and the flavor is tremendous. Grass-fed beef is higher in heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids and important vitamins like vitamins B12 and E. When eaten in moderation, I don't believe lean red meats will exacerbate hypertension.
For those seeking to reduce their consumption of red meat, consider eating "free-range" chicken and fish captured from lakes, streambeds, or ocean depths. Fish with scales and fins caught in the wild are excellent sources of protein, as well as healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, and they provide all the essential amino acids.
Wild fish, which is nutritionally far superior to farm-raised, should be consumed liberally by those with high blood pressure. These so-called "oily" fish are particularly beneficial because they contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which keep the heart and blood vessels in good condition. Eating wild-caught fish can lower levels of other fats in the blood, which reduces problems caused by hardening of the arteries or high blood pressure.
You should shop for fish with scales and fins such as halibut, tuna, tilapia, and trout, and stay away from fish without both scales and fins, such as catfish, shark, and swordfish. Shop for fish caught in the wild from oceans and rivers and not "feedlot salmon" raised on fish farms, which don't compare to their coldwater cousins in terms of taste or nutritional value. While it's great to see more people eating the tender pink meat of farm-raised Atlantic salmon, it's never going to nutritionally match what comes from the wild. The salmon from fish farms spend several years lazily circling concrete tanks, fattening up on pellets of salmon chow, not streaking through the ocean eating small marine life as they're supposed to.
The better alternative is to purchase fresh salmon and other fish from your local fish market or health-food store. Look for the labels "Alaskan" or "wild-caught." Wild-caught fish is an absolutely incredible food and should be consumed liberally. Supermarkets and health-food stores are stocking these types of foods in greater quantities these days, and of course, they are found in natural-food stores, fish markets, and specialty stores.
Besides fats and proteins, the third macronutrient contained in food is carbohydrates, which, by definition, are the sugars and starches contained in plant foods. Sugars and starches, like fats, are not inherently bad for you. The problem is that the standard American diet includes way too many foods containing these carbohydrates—foods brimming with sodium. Sugar and its sweet relatives—high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, molasses, and maple syrup—are among the first ingredients listed in staples such as cereals, breads, buns, pastries, doughnuts, cookies, ketchup, and ice cream. And as I said before, many of these processed foods contain surprisingly high amounts of sodium.
Restricting the consumption of carbohydrates and wisely choosing your carbs should result in an improvement of your high blood pressure. The carbohydrates you want to consume are low glycemic, high nutrient, and low sugar. These would be most high-fiber fruits (especially berries), vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some legumes, plus a small amount of whole grain products (sprouted, soaked, or sour-leavened), which are always better than refined carbohydrates that have been stripped of their vital fiber, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and mineral components.
You're probably aware that many people battling high blood pressure are also battling the bulge around their midsection. You don't have to be related to Albert Einstein to understand that being overweight increases your risk of developing hypertension. Medical professionals agree that losing even ten pounds can lower blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease.
If you know—or have been told by your doctor—that you need to lose weight so that your blood pressure can come down, please know that I don't recommend any of the popular "low-carb" diets like Atkins, South Beach, or The Zone. This trio of popular diets differ in the details, but generally speaking they call for an increase in high-protein sources such as meat, fish, and dairy and a reduction in the intake of carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and rice, which causes the body to burn excess body fat for fuel.
Low-carb eating has had quite a following in the last few years. The low-carb craze peaked in early 2004 when over 9 percent of US adults claimed to be on a low-carb diet, according to market research firm NPD Group. That figure, however, declined to 2.2 percent a little more than a year later, the same time Atkins Nutritionals, the company distributing Atkins products, announced that it was seeking bankruptcy protection.
Excerpted from The Great Physician's Rx for High Blood Pressure by Jordan Rubin, Joseph Brasco. Copyright © 2007 Jordan Rubin. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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