Health Buzz: Even Slightly Elevated Blood Pressure Raises Stroke Risk

Plus, a diet that lowers blood pressure; 10 salt shockers that could make hypertension worse.

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Prehypertension Hikes Stroke Risk, Study Finds

Need another reason to drop the salt shaker? A a new report shows that having even slightly elevated blood pressure—which salt can bump up—may raise your risk of stroke. Researchers reviewed data on half a million people from 12 studies examining the relationship between blood pressure and stroke. Folks with prehypertension, they found, were 55 percent more likely to have a stroke than those with normal blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is a systolic (top) number below 120 mm Hg and diastolic (bottom) number below 80 mm Hg; prehypertension is between 120 and 139 mm Hg (top number) and 80 and 89 mm Hg (bottom number). If you're prehypertensive, "you should take it very seriously and strongly consider a change in lifestyle to try and reduce your risk of stroke," senior study author Bruce Ovbiagele, a neurosciences professor at the University of California, San Diego, told HealthDay. The study will appear in the Oct. 4 issue of Neurology.

DASH Diet For Heart Health

Although you'll want to consult your doctor, your prescription for lowering blood pressure needn't necessarily include medication, say experts. Heart-healthy lifestyle changes—quitting smoking, exercising, and, of course, changing your diet—can make a dent. The government-endorsed DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan ranked No. 3 in U.S. News's ranking of the Best Heart-Healthy Diets, snagging a score of 4.3 out of 5 from a panel of 22 distinguished diet, diabetes, and heart experts.

Rigorous studies show DASH can lower blood pressure, increase "good" HDL cholesterol, and decrease "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, a fatty substance that in excess has been linked to heart disease. Overall, DASH reflects the medical community's widely accepted definition of a heart-healthy diet—it's heavy on fruits and vegetables and light on saturated fat, sugar, and salt. [Read more: DASH Diet Overview.]

10 Salt Shockers That Could Make Hypertension Worse

Sometimes, just setting aside the salt shaker isn't enough to reduce sodium intake and deflate high blood pressure, U.S. News reported in 2009. Certain unsuspecting packaged foods are loaded with sodium, including these 10 culprits:

1. Miso Soup: 1 cup of miso soup typically contains 700 to 900 milligrams of sodium. Look for canned soups with "low sodium" or "reduced sodium" on the label.

2. Cottage cheese: Some low-fat brands pack more than 900 mg. of sodium into a 1 cup serving. Better choice: One cup of plain yogurt, which has about 150 mg., or 1 ounce of Swiss cheese, which contains 54 mg.

3. Salsa: Many brands, like Pace Chunky Salsa, contain 230 mg. of sodium per 2-tablespoon serving. Look for brands made with "salt-free" tomatoes.

4. Dill pickles: A single dill typically contains 830 mg. of sodium. Have a sweet gherkin instead or, better yet, ultralow-sodium fresh sliced cucumber.

5. Croissant: All that buttery flakiness packs in more than 400 mg. of sodium. Ditto for corn bread. Instead, choose reduced-sodium whole-grain breads or, heck, even white bread; either typically has fewer than 150 mg. per slice. [Read more: 10 Salt Shockers That Could Make Hypertension Worse.]

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