So off on our journey, we began. High blood pressure was new to me and healthy eating, quite frankly, was not my strength. I’m a workaholic and coffee was my meal. Even my students know my order: a medium coffee with 3 creams and 5 Splendas to be exact. So, in approaching this, I started researching the best and worst foods. I knew that for us to be committed to this for the long haul, it had to be incremental, easy, cost-effective and the food still had to taste good.
I knew that anything drastic would be short-lived and ultimately a failure. So, we took baby steps. During the first week, I visited the Asian pharmacy at Asian Plaza and purchased high blood pressure tea to help reduce his blood pressure. I replaced sweeteners with monk fruit and stevia leaves. I began reading the labels and attempted to remove as much sodium as possible from our diet. I found information on the internet about the DASH Diet, and followed some of their tips to reduce sodium intake:
• Using sodium-free spices or flavorings with your food instead of salt
• Not adding salt when cooking rice, pasta or hot cereal
• Buying foods labeled “no salt added,” “sodium-free,” “low sodium” or “very low sodium” – READ ALL LABELS
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that’s designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). The DASH diet plan was developed to lower blood pressure without medication in research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
My partner was extremely cooperative and went along with all of my ideas. I even researched the number of milligrams of sodium in that Chick fil A sandwich and that sour cream Dunkin Donuts he loved to eat daily. What I discovered was while calories and fat were both readily available, I had to look deeper to find the sodium content. Let’s try 1350 (56% of our Daily Value) for that “healthy” Chick fil A sandwich that has people lined up around the corner to devour. The sour cream donut from Dunkin’ Donuts has 330 mg of sodium, times 2 per day and he was taking in over 2000 mg of sodium per day without eating any other meals. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg a day of sodium as an upper limit for all adults. The body needs only a small amount of sodium (less than 500 milligrams per day) to function properly. With a sandwich and a donut, he was already wayyyy past his limit and hadn’t eaten anything else.
I also enlisted our team to help keep him on track and alert me if he tried to sneak a treat. I switched from grocery shopping at my neighborhood Wal-Mart to shopping at Whole Foods. I learned that potassium counteracts the effects of sodium, helping to maintain consistent blood pressure. It also helps enhance muscle strength, metabolism, water balance, and the nervous system. Bananas, avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes are among the excellent natural sources of potassium.
I cooked only salmon and chicken marinated in honey and fresh lemon/lime juice. I added a lot of spinach, arugula, minced garlic, colorful peppers, and red onions. This meant I had to find a low-sodium French dressing. The best option I found is Annie’s French which has 180 mg of sodium per 2 tablespoons. We changed cereals and added fresh fruit for his snacks, particularly a lot of bananas.
At the end of the first week on September 1st, I took his blood pressure and it had dropped to 142/83. Yes, you read it right. After only one week of removing as much sodium as possible from his diet, his blood pressure dropped over 30 points. And guess what, we both felt so much better. I wasn’t waking up at night needing to drink water because I was dehydrated or feeling swollen throughout the day. He felt more energetic.
During Week 2, I began exploring seasonings without sodium and different herbs and spices so I could make our food more satisfying. Week 1 called for more drastic measures, so we had to suffer through a little blandness. But by the second week, I was starting to become more knowledgeable in my cooking practices. Plus, I have to get my skills together before all of the kids come home from college and have a revolt against the new cooking. I swear there’s nothing worse than eating food that has a bland taste.
We both also began drinking Bragg’s Apple Cider vinegar. He takes 2 tablespoons per day and I take 1. Why am I taking it? Well, it turns out, I decided to take my own blood pressure and discovered that my Diastolic number was high. I couldn’t even imagine what it was before we made the lifestyle change. Here, I started this journey for him only to learn that I needed it also.
Little does he know but my plan is that once he gets adjusted to the taste, we’re switching to Bragg’s Apple Cider vinaigrette dressing.
Week 3 was a little more of a challenge because our routine was altered when he had to travel. Although he indulged in his cousin’s cooking while he was gone, he was still selective about what he ate and then ate in moderation. When he returned home, he fell back into his routine. On September 12, his blood pressure reading was at 137/75. Still no medication, only lifestyle changes in eating. So, here are some helpful terms when looking at labels:
• Sodium-free – Less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving and contains no sodium chloride
• Very low sodium – 35 milligrams or less per serving
• Low sodium – 140 milligrams or less per serving (50 mg=2%)
• Reduced (or less) sodium – At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level
I try my best to eliminate sodium as much as possible and only resort to the low sodium version when there are no other alternatives. I try my best to never go above low sodium.
Week 4, I’m now exploring cost-effective ways to eat healthily. I believe it is unrealistic to expect people to purchase everything from Whole Foods. Not only is it expensive, but just because it says organic or is at Whole Foods, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. You still have to check the labels. My plan is to explore the West Side Market and fish markets with the hopes of purchasing salmon and other produce cheaper.
I will admit that this change has been expensive. We’ve been very blessed to be able to afford to make this transition to improve our health. However, people should not have to go into debt or not pay critical bills to live healthier lives. My goal moving forward on this journey is to find affordable, healthy options that I can share with others.
Beginning on October 1st, we will add exercise to our lifestyle. Remember, we’re taking baby steps so these changes will become a natural part of our lives. Too much, too fast can be overwhelming, at least for me.
This is new for me so I’m constantly learning. So, if anyone has any suggestions, I’m completely open. Until next month, choose one thing to add or remove from your diet to help improve your health. Take your blood pressure before and then wait a week or two before you take it again. Then email me at email@example.com to share your results. I wish you a blessed Journey to Wellness.