You knew that reducing salt could help lower blood pressure, but did you know reducing your sugar intake could, too? An 18-month long, multi-center, prospective study by Dr. Liwei Chen and her colleagues suggests just that. The researchers found that when individuals who regularly drank sugar sweetened beverages cut back on their intake, they significantly reduced their blood pressure. The study population consisted of men and women ages 25 to 76 years old from multiple health care centers nationally who drank an average of 10.5 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages daily. The data showed that regardless of age, gender, race, weight-loss during the study, caffeine, alcohol, and sodium intake, and physical activity, reducing sugar-sweetened beverages by 1 serving per day on average still had a significant blood pressure-reducing effect.
The average American adult drinks more than 28 oz. (~2.3 servings) of sugar-sweetened beverages every day. The researchers already had evidence to show that this kind of dietary habit is linked to higher incidence of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and Type II diabetes, but they wanted to know more. What the current research shows is that by cutting out this habit, Americans can lower their blood pressure enough to reduce their risk of death from stroke by 8 percent, and their risk of death from coronary heart disease by 5 percent. That number may not be astounding, but in combination with an overall healthy lifestyle, the risk reduction is very promising.
If you’re one of the 64 percent of Americans who have hypertension or pre-hypertension, then this study’s results have relevance to you. The American Heart Association recommends that adult women take in no more than 6 tsp. of sugar (100 calories) daily, and no more than 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men. So, instead of reaching for fruit juice, soda, sweetened bottled iced tea or sports drinks on a hot day (or during/after exercise), try some of these suggestions:
- Drink seltzer with freshly sliced nectarines, plums, or berries.
- Squeeze lemon or lime into a glass of ice cold water or unsweetened iced tea.
- Grow your own mint and try muddling some into a glass of ice cold water. Mint comes in delightful varieties like ginger, banana, and even chocolate (yes, the chocolate mint really tastes like chocolate). Now, that’s a real afternoon pick-me-up!
If you’re still worried about having high blood pressure, here are some additional dietary recommendations, but never stop your prescribed medication or make drastic dietary changes without consulting your doctor.