Around a third of the adult population in the world has been diagnosed with hypertension; it is most common in older people, those with a family history of the condition and in some ethnic groups.
A number of lifestyle factors can help to prevent or treat high blood pressure – for example, not smoking, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy body weight, drinking alcohol in moderation (if at all), eating a balanced and varied diet that is low in fat (particularly saturated fats) and sodium (salt), and that includes low – fat dairy.
A diet that is low in fat and include low – fat dairy foods, and fruit and vegetables, has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with or without high blood pressure. This diet reduced the amount of fat, saturates and cholesterol, and increased amount of potassium, magnesium and calcium. Reducing the amount of salt in the diet also had a beneficial effect. The best effect was achieved when both approaches were combined. This highlights the importance of improving the diet overall rather than focusing on single nutrients. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will also help to maintain healthy body.
An inadequate dietary intake of potassium may increase blood pressure. A high potassium intake may, therefore, protect against developing hypertension and improve blood pressure control in patients with hypertension. There is also evidence to suggest that that the effect of sodium (salt) on blood pressure may be related to the amount of potassium in the diet, and that the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet might be more important than the absolute amount of either. Potassium is found in meat, milk, vegetable, potatoes, fruit (especially bananas) and fruit juices, bread, fish, nuts and seeds.
Studies have also suggested that ensuring an adequate amount of calcium and magnesium in the diet is important to protect against high blood pressure, as well as for general health. Sources of calcium include milk and dairy products, soft bones in canned fish, bread, pulses, green vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Food containing magnesium include cereals and cereal products, meat, green, vegetables, milk, potatoes, nuts and seeds.
Another future challenge is to reduce the amount of salt used in cooking. It is now well recognized that there is a link between salt and hypertension (high blood pressure). High blood pressure often causes no symptoms but increases the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and stroke.