If you're concerned about the health of your cardiovascular system, keeping your blood pressure low and blood cholesterol in a healthy range are important goals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about one-third of adults have high blood pressure and almost as many adults have high cholesterol, both conditions that may have few symptoms but nevertheless raise your risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Paying close attention to your diet can help you control both your blood pressure and your cholesterol level.
Sodium and Cholesterol
Sodium is an essential mineral your body uses to maintain fluid balance, and it also plays a central role in regulating your blood pressure. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, consuming too much sodium can cause high blood pressure. It says you should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams daily, or about 1 teaspoon of table salt, or no more than 1,500 milligrams if you already have hypertension. Your body also needs cholesterol as part of cellular membranes and for many biochemical reactions, but you should consume no more than 300 milligrams daily, according to the the publication "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010." Cholesterol travels in your blood combined with protein, as a lipoprotein. High levels of low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol, contribute to fatty deposits called plaque on artery walls. Plaque can narrow arteries and raise your risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.
The D.A.S.H. Diet Plan
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests adopting the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan to help prevent high blood pressure. The D.A.S.H. plan also contains recommended amounts and types of dietary fats that can help keep your blood cholesterol level under control. A primary goal of the plan is to limit sodium intake by minimizing use of table salt and consumption of salty foods, helping to keep daily intake of salt at or below 1 teaspoon daily. The plan also indicates that your daily fat intake shouldn't exceed 27 percent of your total calories and should be mostly unsaturated fat, with only 6 percent or less of your calorie intake from saturated, animal-based fats.
Choosing Healthy Fats
To help lower your blood cholesterol, minimize your intake of fatty meats such as steak, hamburger, bacon and sausage. Opt for lean cuts with little or no visible fat. Choose lean poultry cooked without skin and add fish to meals often because fish contains healthy, omega-3 fatty acids that help lower cholesterol. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" recommends you replace butter with a reduced-fat margarine and use low-fat or nonfat dairy products instead of full-fat versions. Avoid trans fats, an unhealthy type of solid fat added to processed foods and baked goods. In cooking, use healthy vegetable oils such as canola, olive or safflower oil. Check food labels, and limit your intake of foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, which contain trans fats.
Managing Dietary Salt
You can help lower your sodium intake and risk of high blood pressure by substituting herbs and spices for salt at the table or in recipes. Avoid salty snacks and opt for unsalted choices such as nuts and popcorn. Also limit your intake of cured, salted meats such as ham, and check labels of lunch meats for sodium content, opting for low-salt versions. Choose low-salt canned vegetables, or rinse salted vegetables before using them, and check the "Nutrition Facts" label on canned foods for the amount of added sodium. When dining out, request that salt be omitted from your food. For help designing an appropriate dietary plan, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Is This an Emergency?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: High Blood Pressure
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Trends in High LDL Cholesterol, Cholesterol-Lowering Medication Use, and Dietary Saturated-Fat Intake: United States, 1976–2010
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Reduce Salt and Sodiium in Your Diet
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is the DASH Eating Plan?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is Cholesterol?