As we established in a previous post about diabetes, South Asian people and people of South Asian descent are particularly susceptible to high blood pressure. Click here to read that post. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways you can help yourself through simple dietary changes.
Even though high blood pressure often calls for medication, there are lifestyle changes we can make that bring improvements. In fact, the changes we’re laying out in this post are often among the first suggestions from professionals. They may not always be enough to lower to a healthy range, but healthy changes are always beneficial.
In this post, we’re going to lay out exactly what hypertension is and what it means for your health, as well as some of the most common ways people can naturally reduce their blood pressure. Lastly, we’ll be discussing ways you can modify a South Asian diet to make it healthier.
What Is Blood Pressure and How Is It Measured?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a very common chronic condition. It simply refers to how much blood is being pumped through your arteries and the resistance each pump faces, which creates the pressure. Over time, resistance in your arteries can cause health issues if left unaddressed.
When you have your blood pressure measured, you receive it in two numbers. The first number, which is the higher number, measures pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number, which is lower, measures pressure in your arteries between beats.
A healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg (that’s millimeters of mercury). Blood pressure of 129/80 is still okay, but elevated, and anything over 130/80-89 is cause for attention. Blood pressure that reads 140/90 or more is a level of hypertension that should be immediately addressed.
What Happens If I Don’t Address Hypertension?
The tricky thing about high blood pressure and hypertension is that you can have it for years without experiencing symptoms. It typically does not become an apparent issue until middle age, but it can be present for long before that point. Left untreated, hypertension significantly increases your risk of health conditions such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Luckily, however, blood pressure is also incredibly easy to measure! If you don’t know where to get your blood pressure tested, SEWA-AIFW offers free testing at our monthly health clinics. Click here to see our events calendar and find the next clinic.
Ideally, you should be getting your blood pressure tested at each doctor’s visit, or at least once every two years from age 18.
If left unaddressed, hypertension can lead to serious health conditions later in life. Such conditions include:
Heart attack or stroke
Weakened blood vessels in the kidneys or eyes
Remember that these conditions are the result of allowing hypertension to simply progress. The good news is that there are a lot of things we can do to address high blood pressure.
The Most Common Ways to Address Hypertension
Many doctors and medical professionals agree on several ways to address hypertension. These are often among the first recommendations after a diagnosis. However, if diagnosed with hypertension, whether by your doctor or a test at one of our health clinics, it’s important to work with a medical professional to come up with a plan for strategically lowering your blood pressure.
That said, here are a few very common ways to help alleviate hypertension.
Weight loss is one of the best ways to manage blood pressure. Your blood pressure tends to increase with weight, so losing excess weight is a great way to push it lower.
Losing weight is especially helpful if you are already overweight or have hypertension. If your weight is not a concern or within a healthy range, then losing weight isn’t advisable. Otherwise, losing 10 pounds can have a significant improvement on your blood pressure, as well as other related health conditions such as diabetes (if present).
Exercise is critically important for our health for reasons far beyond hypertension, yet it can be hard to begin. It’s easy to feel like we’re not doing enough, but the most important part of exercise is consistency, not intensity. Going for a 30 minute walk or jog a few times a week is a great start! But keep the consistency. If you stop exercising for awhile, your blood pressure can start to creep back up, so it’s important to set a schedule and stick to it.
Talk to a healthcare professional about setting up an exercise plan that works for you. If you already have hypertension, regular exercise is a great way to push your blood pressure back down towards healthier levels.
Improve Your Diet
There are many ways we can improve our diets to improve hypertension and lose weight. Excess salt, sodium, caffeine, and alcohol are all risk factors for high blood pressure. Furthermore, there are many foods that we don’t realize are actually unhealthy.
It’s recommended to eat a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Additionally, reducing your intake of saturated fats and cholesterol can bring significant improvements in lowering blood pressure.
Those recommendations come from an official diet aimed at improving hypertension. Click here to read more about the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet.
How To Modify a South Asian Diet For Hypertension
We’re lucky in that South Asian cuisine is already rich in healthy things, like vegetables, beans, and fiber. However, there’s a few parts that are a little problematic from a health perspective. Furthermore, food here in the United States is not exactly known for its health benefits.
To modify a South Asian diet to be more heart-healthy, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of food you eat that has been cooked in ghee, vanaspati, palm oil, coconut oil, and other coconut products. When cooking with oil, it’s better to use unsaturated ones like canola or olive oil. If you are trying to achieve a creamy texture in your dish, good alternatives include low-fat yogurt or nut butters, such as almond butter.
You can also swap out refined carbohydrates like white rice and white flour in favor of brown rice and whole wheat or ragi flour. For protein, tofu is a great substitute for paneer. Lentils and beans are also healthy sources of protein.
Overall, try to keep sodium levels low. It’s a good idea to check the nutrition facts on whatever you buy, as it can be surprising how many products are full of sodium in the US — even some spice mixes!
However you choose to modify your diet, it’s best to do it with the guidance of a healthcare professional. Everyone has different nutritional needs, so it is vital that your plan works for you. Taking the first step is always difficult, but consistency in diet and exercise has many rewards and returns.