Lowering your blood pressure while lowering your environmental impact
There are diet choices that significantly improve blood pressure and benefit the environment simultaneously. Why not tackle two epidemics at once?
Saturday, June 19, 2010 - 16:14
If you're attempting to mend multiple societal wrongs within an inconveniently short lifespan, multitasking is a must. Fortunately, tackling a health epidemic often serves environmental needs at the same time. High blood pressure is a great example.
One in three American adults has high blood pressure, but only 70 percent of them are aware of their condition. The cost of heart disease and stroke in the U.S. is almost a half-trillion dollars. These figures alone should alter diets, but for an even greater incentive, consider how a low blood pressure diet benefits the environment.
Three ways you can eat your way to healthier blood pressure include limiting packaged or convenience foods, demanding a variety of nutrient-rich foods and lowering consumption of red meat. Incidentally, these actions help the environment by reducing use of packaging, encouraging responsible agriculture and reducing use of energy in processing food and raising animals.
Luckily for New Yorkers, such a diet is a piece of cake considering the proliferation of grocery stores, delis, cafes and restaurants committed to serving all natural, organic or vegan options.
Limiting packaged or convenience foods (a.k.a. actually cooking)
The vast majority of studies and medical minds insist sodium increases blood pressure. Incidentally, companies with some of the worst ecological track records offer processed packaged foods with obscene amounts of salt. You know the culprits: canned soup and vegetables, styrofoam-clad ramen noodles, boxed dinner mixes, foil-wrapped fast food and so forth. Anything that relies on a combination of industrial farming, processed subsidized crops, superfluous packaging, and an eerily long shelf life is bound to have high sodium.
Studies now suggest fructose also increases blood pressure, and packaged snacks, deserts, sodas and juices use sugar like it's going out of style. American Heart Association research shows that in men, excessive fructose consumption increases metabolic syndrome and risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. Fructose is usually found in table sugars and high fructose corn syrup, the processed sweetener running rampant in convenience stores and fast food chains.
You can dodge sodium and fructose overload by cooking more meals from scratch, and this will also reduce the packaging you use and the dollars you put toward irresponsible food processors. When you're short on time to cook, try to at least choose organic packaged foods or simpler meals with whole foods.
New York City has a long list of grocery stores with all natural or organic brands. If you grow tired of the hustle and bustle of Whole Foods, try Lifethyme on 8th St. and 6th Ave. This more intimate setting has great organic and vegan options, as well as a dining area for their prepared foods similar to that of Whole Foods.
Demanding a variety of nutrient-rich foods, especially plants
There are several specific foods and minerals that likely lower blood pressure. Potassium, magnesium, calcium, omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, vegetable protein, red wine and garlic are some of the main ones.
Someone with a blood pressure problem should eat foods in which nutrients are preserved as well as possible. This means choosing fresher produce that went through the least amount of steps before landing on the dinner table. For example, you can buy local or farmers market produce that didn't travel thousands of miles in a refrigerated truck or get canned or frozen. Organic produce, which is often grown in extremely nutrient-rich soil, is another great choice.
Simply increasing the variety of produce in your diet will increase your exposure to complex macronutrients and micronutrients that lower blood pressure. Seeking variety also increases demand for a rich diversity of crops instead of contributing to reliance on subsidized corn and soy used in packaged foods. You can also try some raw food recipes that call for little to no cooking to preserve the greatest amount of your food's nutrients. Again, this helps the environment by lowering your energy usage.
To reach local produce in the New York City area, the Grow NYC website details all the good farmers markets in the area — the most popular of which is the Union Square farmers market open four days a week.
Lowering intake of red meat and high fat animal products
Studies show that heme iron from red meat may have an adverse effect on blood pressure, while nonheme iron found in other foods may reduce blood pressure. The cattle industry is also devouring the greatest amount of fossil fuels out of all American food industries, as well as continuing demand for subsidized feed grains in factory farms. Needless to say, cutting back on red meat consumption will improve your health and your nation's energy usage.
Lowering meat intake does not have to lower the protein in your diet. For example, one half cup of beans contains as much protein as 3 ounces of steak. A diet rich in soy, an extremely high protein food, has even been credited with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol in women.
There are lots of online resources to help you supplement some meals with vegetarian recipes, my favorite of which is Vegan Yum Yum. There are also endless choices of delicious, trendy and gourmet New York City restaurants with vegetarian or vegan options. These are some of my favorites:
Gourmet Organic Vegan
Lexington and 79th
Raw Gourmet Vegan
54 Irving Pl. 17th and 18th St.
Bleeker and W. 3rd St.
Juice Bar and Vegetarian Deli
Broadway and 72nd
Bringing Down High Blood Pressure by Dr. Chad Rhoden
Clean Plates by Jared Koch
You might also like: