A healthy diet is not synonyms with a hole in the pocket or hours a day in the kitchen.

Research has proved time and again that llifestyle changes, especially exercise and diet, are effective in preventing and treating hypertension. People with high blood pressure should reduce sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day or less by avoiding salt-laden processed and restaurant foods. They should also avoid adding salt while preparing meals or at the table. Evidence indicates that dietary sodium reduction can decrease systolic blood pressure by 2 to 8 mmHg.

Although difficult to adhere to, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet has been shown to reduce systolic BP by eight to 14 mmHg with its focus on potassium, calcium and magnesium-rich foods. As far as optimal weight is concerned, guidelines recommend a body mass index goal of 20 to 25 percent, and a waist circumference of less than 102 cm in men and less than 88 cm in women. Also, smoking, stress and alcohol intake are high on the list of things to avoid.

People tend to think that following healthy diets and stocking up on the foods they recommend will eat into their budgets. They also might not have the time to prepare meals opting for take-out and fast foods. However, according to the American Heart Association, getting the nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods your body needs may be easier — and cheaper — than you think. AHA says in an article that “many ready-made and processed foods cost more than homemade foods. They can also hurt your heart and cause the pounds to pile on. A poor diet can lead to serious long-term health problems, and being overweight is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D. and distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University, adds that “many unhealthy foods are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium, and low in important nutrients, whether you get them from a drive-through or a grocery store.” She recommends planning menus and preparing healthy and easy-to-make meals two to four weeks in advance to avoid spontaneous and unhealthy food choices.

Another pointer if you work during the week is to cook over the weekend and store leftovers in the fridge or freezer. “Meals can be hassle-free when you’re just thawing and reheating for quick lunches and dinners.” Other tips include keeping healthy snacks like vegetables cut and ready in the fridge; buying fresh fruit and vegetables at local farmer’s markets; and getting your kids involved in preparing food or even making a game of reading food labels at the grocery store. Eating right and living well can be fun, inexpensive, and a guarantee for a longer, healthier, and hypertension-free life for all.

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