High blood pressure or hypertension is one among the unholy trinity of lifestyle ailments (the others being diabetes and high cholesterol) that affects a growing section of our adult population. One of the problems with high blood pressure is that it can creep on you virtually undetected without any obvious symptoms.
As with diabetes, poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, irregular sleep and stress play a huge role in afflicting someone with high blood pressure. Therefore, it follows logically that addressing these key issues should provide practical, non-medical solutions to controlling blood pressure and staying healthy.
High blood pressure and the myth related to salt intake
Here’s a scenario you may be very familiar with. Mention the “BP problem” and you’ll quickly hear someone say, “namak kam karo” (cut the salt)! That is mainly because excess sodium in the diet is said to cause hypertension, something corroborated by The American Heart Association.
The real problem is when the need to reduce sodium consumption is selectively applied to items that are integral to Indian food culture such as papads and pickles, while there are no restrictions placed on processed food items such as “digestive oats” biscuits (sounds healthy, doesn’t it?) or packaged cereals. In contrast to the benefits of home-made food including papads and pickles – that are cooked with natural herbs and spices and loads of that priceless ingredient called love – the artificial preservatives in the processed food are more likely to cause long-term health issues.
The critical importance of salt as an essential component of good food has been long recognized universally. The salt temples of China are testimony to this fact, as is the infamous salt production ban imposed by the British in India during its colonization. So, the key point is that rather than eliminating salt from the diet to reduce high blood pressure, one should use salt judiciously. Here’s what I recommend in relation to your salt consumption:
¬ Use unrefined salt (Himalayan pink salt)/ black salt/ rock salt for the excellent balance of sodium and potassium that it provides. White, iodised salt gives only sodium, and no potassium. Moreover, black salt (“kaala namak”) – a good source of iodine, potassium and iron- is a natural digestive that also lends its own bit of flavor to the sherbet, fruits and salads, or the raitas that you choose to add it to!
¬ Avoid packaged, processed and industrialized foods, which reduce our body’s ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients. These foods affect the sodium to potassium ratio and the water balance, which in turn has a negative effective on blood pressure.
Pickles, papads and pressure
As briefly mentioned above, one of the first casualties of a problem with hypertension is pickles and papads, that tend to get eliminated from the dining table almost immediately. Not the most prudent choice!
There is a reason why the art of making delicious homemade pickles has been passed on from generation to generation; our ancestors probably recognized the benefits of pickles beyond being mere taste enhancers. Today, it is being increasingly acknowledged- even in the west- that traditional homemade pickles have just the right strain of probiotic bacteria that can play an important role in lowering of blood pressure.
Similarly, papad has its own benefits, a fact that certain communities in India -like the Sindhis, for example- seem to have fully absorbed based on their well-known affinity for this savory snack. Some of these benefits are fairly obvious if we just pay close attention to the ingredients of papad, namely various lentils/ daals (usually protein-rich) and a range of spices such as black pepper and cumin. The role of various spices in keeping us healthy merits a separate article by itself; for now, suffice to say that the spices just add a therapeutic quality to the papads. Let high blood pressure not be the reason for you to give up on home made papads.
Maintain healthy blood pressure with sound sleep
The importance of adequate duration and good quality sleep for our body and mind is only getting reinforced in study after study. Restorative sleep produces hormones important for maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
Chronic sleep deprivation leads to an increase in cortisol levels that will in turn lead to insulin resistance and lifestyle diseases/problems like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Therefore, to maintain a healthy blood pressure and avoid other lifestyle diseases, give your body sufficient rest and sleep (6-8 hours of good quality of sleep is recommended). Also note that regulating the time you go to sleep and wake up is as important as the quantity of sleep.
Controlling blood pressure with holistic exercise
Walking may be a great first step towards keeping blood pressure normal, but that is certainly not enough. A holistic exercise regimen that includes cardio, strength training and yoga will go a long way in preventing the need for blood pressure medicines.
Strength training/ resistance training is known to increase the plasma adiponectin secretion by fat cells. Adiponectin helps prevent metabolic disorders like hypertension and reduces blood pressure. In fact, greater the adiponectin concentration, lower is the mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Studies have also shown a correlation between yoga and a lower blood pressure. Doing yoga two to three times a week is associated with a drop in blood pressure readings. The amount of change may be small but certainly have very significant long term benefits.
Watch your lifestyle
To conclude, you can maintain good control of your blood pressure by making suitable lifestyle adjustments.
Cut out processed, packaged food that are loaded with preservatives; enjoy traditional, home-made delights; have a holistic exercise regimen and give yourself the gift of good sleep. Just follow these “simple” tips and you may never be alarmed by the readings from the blood pressure monitor!
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Confused by the misinformation about potential health problems with traditional Indian foods? Get in touch with well-known Mumbai dietitian and nutritionist, Munmun Ganeriwal, a strong advocate of the holistic, wellness benefits of fresh, local, and traditional Indian foods.