You know high blood pressure is bad, but you probably have a little trouble
getting your head around the whole concept of how “blood pressure” works.
“Can’t we just let a little of the blood out and lower the pressure?” you might
wonder. If only it were so easy.
When most people think of blood pressure, they think in terms of a garden
hose: Too much pressure and the hose bursts, unless you open the valve. But
that model is too simple. It helps instead to think of your circulatory system as
more like the Erie Canal—a series of locks and gates that help move blood
around to where it’s needed. See, gravity works on your blood just like it
works on the rest of your body: It wants to pull everything downward. So
imagine yourself hopping out of bed tomorrow morning and standing up.
Gravity wants to take all that blood that’s distributed throughout your body
and pull it down into your feet. You, on the other hand, would like that blood
to pump to your brain, where it can help you figure out where the hell your
On cue, arteries in the lower body constrict while the heart dramatically
increases output. The instant result: Blood pressure rises, and blood flows
to the brain. Ahh, there they are—in the dog’s water dish, right where you
It’s an ingenious system, but one that’s incredibly easy to throw out of
whack. When you pack on extra padding around your gut, your heart pumps
harder to force blood into all that new fatty tissue. When you nosh on potato
chips and other high-sodium foods, your body retains water in order to dilute
the excess sodium, increasing overall blood volume. When you line your
arteries with plaque from too many fatty meals, pressure increases as the
same amount of blood has to squeeze through newly narrowed vessels.
When you let the pressures of the day haunt you into the night, your brain
pumps out stress hormones that keep your body in a perpetual state of
fight-or-flight anxiousness, also forcing your heart to pump harder. Highsalt,
high-fat diets and an excess of stress all combine to create a dangerous
Much to the dismay of Quentin Tarantino fans, letting out some blood won’t
relieve the pressure. Your heart is still pumping, and your blood vessels are
still dilating and contracting to make sure the blood goes where it’s needed.
When the pressure remains high for years on end, thin-walled vessels in the
brain can burst under extreme pressure; brain cells die as a result in what’s
known as a hemorrhagic stroke. Or hypertension can cause plaque buildup in
STRIP AWAY FAT, STRIP AWAY TROUBLE 17
one of the brain’s arteries, eventually cutting off bloodflow. (High blood pressure
damages smooth artery walls, creating anchor points for plaque to latch
onto.) Kidney failure or a heart attack can also follow from dangerous plaque
Then there’s the plain old wear and tear that high blood pressure causes on
your ticker. Over time, the extra work brought on by high blood pressure
causes the walls of the heart to stiffen and thicken. The heart becomes a less
efficient pump, unable to push out as much blood as it takes in. Blood backs
up, the heart gives out, and the coroner scribbles “congestive heart failure”
on your chart.
Ideally, your blood pressure should be 120/80 or lower. What do those numbers
mean? The top number, called the systolic pressure, is the pressure generated
when the heart beats. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, the
pressure on your blood vessels when the heart is resting between beats.
Higher readings are broken out into three categories:
Prehypertensive: 120–139 systolic/80–89 diastolic. Prehypertensives
should start worrying now about their blood pressure, concentrating
on diet and exercise tips like those found in the Abs Diet. You
may not see the flashing lights in your mirror right now, but your radar
detector just went off. Time to slow down.
Stage I hypertensive: 140–159 systolic/90–99 diastolic. For
people who fall in this range, drug therapy is usually recommended in
addition to lifestyle changes. Your risk of heart attack or stroke is elevated,
and you need to be under a doctor’s care.
Stage II hypertensive: 160 or greater systolic/100 or greater
diastolic. Advanced drug therapy is often a must for people at this
level, who face a serious risk of being maimed or killed by their
So, two questions: Do you know what your blood pressure is? If not, are you
freaked out enough by now to start taking care of it? Fortunately, the Abs Diet
Powerfoods can help by cutting down on the bad fats in your diet and increasing
the good ones—and by slashing away some of those extra pounds.
So can the Abs Diet Workout, as well as a few stress-reduction techniques. (To
find out how you can help manage your stress level, see “How Stress Makes
You Fat” on page 156.) In the meantime, try attacking the problem with some
of these simple tips.
Make it a low-sodium V8. Make that two 5.5-ounce cans: 11 ounces of V8
contains nearly 1,240 milligrams (mg) of potassium. In a study published in theJournal of Human Hypertension, researchers found that prehypertensive patients
who added more potassium to their diets lowered their systolic pressure
by 2.5 points and their diastolic by 1.6 points. Potassium helps sweep excess
sodium from the circulatory system, causing the blood vessels to dilate. What
makes V8 better than a banana (another good source of potassium)? V8 also
contains lycopene and lutein, two phytochemicals that have their own blood
Cut out the cold cuts. One slice of ham contains 240 milligrams of sodium,
more salt than you’ll find on the outside of two pretzel rods. The point:
Lose the lunchmeat, and lower your blood pressure. A recent study found
that prehypertensive people who reduced their daily sodium consumption
from 3,300 to 1,500 milligrams knocked nearly 6 points off their systolic
blood pressure and close to 3 off their diastolic. If you want to have your
hoagie and eat it, too, at least switch to the Boars Head line of low-sodium
meats—ham, turkey, roast beef—and leave the pickle on your plate (833 milligrams
of sodium). Another rule of thumb: If a food comes canned or jarred,
it’s probably a salt mine.
Go two rounds and out. Make the second drink of the night your last call for
alcohol. In a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine,
researchers found that one or two drinks a day actually decreased blood
pressure slightly. Three drinks or more a day, however, elevated blood pressure
by an average of 10 points systolic and 4 diastolic. The type of alcohol
doesn’t matter. Heck, order a screwdriver: Orange juice is one of the best
sources of blood pressure–lowering potassium.
Drink more tea. An American Heart Association study found that men who
drank two cups of tea a day were 25 percent less likely to die of heart disease
than guys who rarely touched the stuff. The reason: Flavonoids in the tea not
only improve blood vessels’ ability to relax but also thin the blood, reducing
Top your toast. Black currant jelly is a good source of quercetin, an antioxidant
that Finnish researchers believe may improve heart health by preventing
the buildup of the free radicals that can damage arterial walls and allow
plaque to penetrate.
Have a Mac(intosh) attack. Men who frequently eat apples have a 20 percent
lower risk of developing heart disease than men who eat apples less often.
ABS DIET HEALTH BULLETIN
WHATTHEHECKIS . . . HIGHBLOODPRESSURE?
STRIP AWAY FAT, STRIP AWAY TROUBLE 19
Eat fresh berries. Raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are all loaded
with salicylic acid—the same heart disease fighter found in aspirin.
Order the tuna. Omega-3 fats in tuna and other fish as well as flaxseed help
strengthen heart muscle, lower blood pressure, prevent clotting, and reduce
levels of potentially deadly inflammation in the body.
Squeeze a grapefruit. One grapefruit a day can reduce arterial narrowing by
46 percent, lower your bad cholesterol level by more than 10 percent, and
help drop your blood pressure by more than 5 points.
Feast on potassium. Slice a banana (487 milligrams) on your cereal, then
bake two small sweet potatoes (612 mg) or cook up some spinach (1 cup has
839 mg) for dinner. All are loaded with potassium. Studies show that not getting
at least 2,000 milligrams of potassium daily can set you up for high blood
pressure. Other good sources of potassium include raisins (1 cup, 1,086 mg),
tomatoes (1 cup sauce, 811 mg), lima beans (1 cup, 955 mg), and papayas
(one has 781 mg of the mineral).
Buy calcium-fortified OJ. Increasing the calcium in your diet can lower your
blood pressure. You’ll derive a benefit from the vitamin C as well. According
to research from England, people with the most vitamin C in their bloodstreams
are 40 percent less likely to die of heart disease.
Snack on pumpkin seeds. One ounce of seeds contains 151 mg of
magnesium, more than a third of your recommended daily intake. Magnesium
deficiencies have been linked to most risk factors for heart
disease, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and
increased buildup of plaque in the arteries. Other great sources: halibut
(170 mg in 7 ounces of fish), brown rice (1 cup, 84 mg), chickpeas
(1 cup, 79 mg), cashews (1 ounce, 74 mg), and artichokes (one gives
you 72 mg).
Change your oil. Researchers in India found that men who replaced the
corn and vegetable oils in their kitchens with monounsaturated fats (olive
oil or, in this case, sesame seed oil) lowered their blood pressure by more
than 30 points in just 60 days without making any other changes in their
Cut down on mindless candy snacking. A compound in licorice root
has been shown to spike blood pressure—especially in men who eat a lot
of black licorice. Fruit-flavored licorice, however, doesn’t contain the