Systolic Blood Pressure: Understanding the Meaning Behind the Numbers
Systolic blood pressure is important to monitor if you want to reduce your risks of heart conditions.
If you are one of the 74 million Americans living with high blood pressure, your systolic blood pressure reading is one of the things you should pay the most attention to.
“Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers,” says Christy Shatlock, RD, and one of the lead dietitians for BistroMD. “Your systolic blood pressure is the top number on your blood pressure reading, and measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart muscles contract.”
In most cases, systolic blood pressure is typically given more attention than the diastolic reading, (the bottom number), because it is an indicator of other, more serious heart conditions, like cardiovascular disease.
“Systolic blood pressure often increases with age, and is often caused by a long-term buildup of plaque, or fatty matter, that can clog your arteries and lead to fatal heart conditions, like cardiovascular disease,” says Christy. “If you are over 50, it is important that you make appropriate lifestyle choices to keep your systolic blood pressure at a normal range.”
As one of the lead dietitians on BistroMD’s team of experts, Christy shares with us the best ways to manage your stystolic blood pressure through a healthy diet.
Shake the Habit of High Sodium
Salt may make your food taste better, but the impact it can have on your blood pressure can be quite intense.
“If you put a ton of salt on your food, you are putting your heart at great risk,” says Christy. “Most people don’t understand that just one teaspoon of regular table salt has over 2,325 milligrams of sodium. This already surpasses your daily recommended sodium intake.”
Your body needs sodium to function, but too much of a good thing can wreak havoc on your heart.
“If your sodium levels are high, your kidneys will excrete the excess sodium through urine,” says Christy. “If your kidneys can’t eliminate all of the excess sodium, it gets stored in your blood. Sodium retains water, which causes your blood volume to increase. This increase in blood volume puts more pressure on your arteries, which leads to a higher systolic blood pressure reading.”
Learn to Read the Label
“By far, most Americans get their sodium from processed foods,” says Christy. “Instead of just automatically throwing items in your cart the next time you go grocery shopping, educate yourself on what to look for on nutrition labels.”
When it comes to keeping your systolic blood pressure in check, watch out for foods labeled as, “light in sodium” or “reduced sodium.”
“Often, these foods still contain a lot of salt,” says Christy. “Reduced sodium foods have 25% less sodium, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. Brands of soup that advertise ‘reduced sodium’ can still have at least 820 milligrams of sodium per cup. The same can also be said for ‘light in sodium’ varieties of other food products.”
When reading labels, it’s also important to educate yourself on what other sodium-filled ingredients may be lurking in your food.
“When reading a label, look for these items: monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, and sodium nitrate or nitrite,” says Christy. “Most of these ingredients contain salt, and other sodium-containing compounds.”
Know What Your Normal Reading Should Be
When monitoring your systolic blood pressure, it’s important to know what the normal numbers should be.
“Ideally, your systolic blood pressure should read less than 120, and your diastolic reading should be less than 80,” says Christy. “If your systolic blood pressure ranges between 140-160, you technically have high blood pressure and should start taking action to correct the situation.”
If your systolic reading climbs above 180, you must immediately seek emergency medical care. To avoid getting to this point, it is important to make the right choices through an appropriate diet and living a healthy lifestyle.
“For years, I have worked with BistroMD’s founding physician, Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D., to develop healthy meals for BistroMD that are low in sodium and heart healthy,” says Christy. “Each meal contains the appropriate balance of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats to retrain your metabolism to burn excess stored fat. With your body’s ability to rid itself of excess fat, this helps prevent the buildup of plaque in your arterial walls, and takes the extra pressure off your heart to pump blood through your vessels.”
With healthy meals delivered to your door by BistroMD, being heart healthy and managing your systolic blood pressure has never been easier.
To learn more about the heart healthy meals developed for BistroMD, read more about our program here.