Control Your Blood Pressure

Reviewed by Di Bush, PhD

Nearly one out of every three adults has high blood pressure. If you have diabetes, your chances of having high blood pressure are even greater. Today, an important goal in staying healthy is to keep your blood pressure in the normal range. According to the most recent health guidelines, blood pressure under 120/80 mmHg is a target goal for most people. A blood pressure level of 140/90 is considered high. The range in between, from 120/80-139/89, is in a category called “pre-hypertension”.

For people with diabetes, the goal is to be at or below 140/80. This has been changed from the older target of 130/80. If you reach and maintain this blood pressure goal, you can prevent or slow down several long-term diabetes problems, including heart disease and stroke. People who are overweight, insulin resistant and/or have pre-diabetes may also have high blood pressure.

A few lifestyle changes may be enough to lower your blood pressure, but you may also need high blood pressure medicines to help you manage it in the long run. Check out these eight lifestyle changes you can make to help get and keep your blood pressure where you want it. Don’t try to make all these changes at once. Choose one or two lifestyle changes that will be easiest for you to start with. Then, take it one step at a time and see if you can make them all happen.

Move more: Being physically active is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent or manage high blood pressure. It also helps reduce your risk of heart disease. Being active can help you lose weight and keep the pounds off. Start slowly. Just walk a few more minutes each day. Change your life in little ways to—literally—take more steps: take the stairs, not the elevator; park farther from the store entrance; walk to a bathroom that is one floor down at work. Talk with your healthcare provider about what activities are best for you.

Eat less sodium: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that people who have high blood pressure or diabetes shouldn’t eat more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. If you are 51 years old or more, or if you are black, you should also stick to the 1,500 mg limit (that’s just over half a teaspoon). However, even people who do not have high blood pressure should eat no more than 2,300 mg per day (just a little under one teaspoon of table salt). Processed and restaurant foods have the most sodium. To eat less sodium, take these steps:

  • Before you buy anything in the supermarket, check the amount of sodium per serving on the Nutrition Facts label. Compare the amount to 1,500 mg. Think about how you will use the food. Is it a side dish or a main course? Can you buy a lower-sodium version or prepare the food from scratch with less sodium?
  • Use more foods that are unprocessed and naturally low in sodium, such as fresh or frozen vegetables, fruits, grains and starchy vegetables.
  • Limit your use of ready-to-eat and processed foods, such as canned soup, cold cuts and hot dogs, frozen entrees, salad dressings and packaged mixes. Buy lower-sodium versions of these products when they are available.

Shake less salt: Salt is made from sodium and chloride. Another way to eat less sodium is to use less salt. Use as little salt as you can in cooking and at the table. Don’t add salt to rice, pasta or hot cereals when you cook them. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta and cereal mixes, which usually have added salt. To season your foods when you cook and at the table, use some of the many low-calorie, low-sodium flavor enhancers, such as herbs, spices, fresh ground pepper, lemon, lime, mustards and vinegars.

Drink and eat more dairy: You may have heard of the DASH diet. It is one of three diets studied by scientists at the National Institute of Health for their effects on high blood pressure. The DASH diet lowered blood pressure the most. It provided healthy amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables and, last but not least, three servings a day of low-fat dairy foods, which are high in calcium. Amazingly, the effect of the healthy eating plan on blood pressure made its impact in just two weeks. The effect on blood pressure for some people was nearly the same as taking one blood pressure medicine. Enjoy three 8-ounce glasses of milk or an equal serving of yogurt. Another high-calcium choice is one and half ounces of cheese or calcium-fortified juice. One serving of a high calcium food should contain at least 300 mg of calcium for a total of at least 1,000 mg a day. Women over 51 years old need 1,200 mg a day.

Shed a few pounds: Research shows that losing even 10 pounds can lower blood pressure. Weight loss has the best effect on blood pressure in people who are overweight and already have high blood pressure.

Eat more potassium: Because Americans don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and dairy foods, they often don’t get enough potassium. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that adults should eat at least 4,700 mg of potassium per day. This amount can lower blood pressure, lessen the effects of too much sodium and salt and decrease the risk of heart disease, especially stroke. If you already have high blood pressure, or if you are black, you should aim for more than 4.700 mg of potassium.

Get enough potassium each day by eating 2 1/2 cups of vegetables, choosing high-potassium vegetables (broccoli, spinach, sweet potato or winter squash), eating two cups of fruit, choosing high-potassium fruits (oranges, cantaloupe, bananas and apricots) and eating three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods. (They are good sources of both potassium and calcium).

Try Sipping Only Moderate Amounts of Alcohol: A moderate amount of alcohol (that’s one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men on any given day) doesn’t seem to raise blood pressure. However, more than three drinks a day have been shown to raise blood pressure in men and women. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer (regular or light), 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled alcohol, such as whiskey, gin or rum.

Don’t smoke: Quit now! Smoking has been shown to injure blood vessel walls and speed up the process of hardening the arteries. Even though smoking doesn’t directly cause high blood pressure, it’s not healthy for anyone, especially people with high blood pressure. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. You will reduce your risk of having a heart attack just one year after quitting.

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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

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