Wellness Wednesday: Hypertension? It’s Not Just the Salt

Dear Dr. A,

I was recently asked by my physician to consider eliminating pork from my diet because of a recent diagnosis of hypertension. Pork happens to be one of my favorite foods. Is it necessary to eliminate pork totally, or could I just reduce the amount that I consume? —Terri

Dear Terri,

The diagnosis of hypertension can be unnerving at first. The “silent killer” may not exhibit symptoms, yet the disease is present. Untreated, it predisposes you to such life-threatening illnesses as stroke, heart or kidney failure, blindness, and heart attack.

The average normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg; a diagnosis of hypertension is made when the blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mmHg. The top number, called systolic pressure, is the heartbeat pressure as it pushes blood into the blood vessels. The lower number is the diastolic pressure which is the pressure of the heart when it is relaxed and filling up with blood.

The cause is not well understood, but the risk factors are fairly well defined. The most common type of hypertension is called primary or essential hypertension. There are factors associated with ethnicity and genetics— hypertension is more common in people of African-American descent. Other factors include excessive salt intake, cigarette smoking, and alcohol intake, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, and consumption of food high in saturated fats.

Apart from using medications, preventing or controlling hypertension can sometimes be achieved by lifestyle changes. These include regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and the cessation of smoking and alcohol consumption. Avoiding food with excessive calories, salt, and a high level of saturated fats such as that found in red meat and pork helps control and prevent hypertension. These can be replaced by foods that consist of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Along with your doctor, I seriously urge you to eliminate pork from your diet because it is a source of excessive amounts of saturated fat. It is also important to remember that pork is unclean for consumption, as stated in the Bible in Leviticus 11:7. Consider replacing your animal-based diet with plant-based foods, such as grains, vegetables, nuts, and soy that may help bring your blood pressure under control.