What are processed foods? Technically, any food that’s been altered from its natural state in some way is considered a “processed food.” It may be helpful to imagine these foods along a spectrum, with minimally processed foods on one end, including products that have undergone very little alteration (such as bagged salad and frozen meat), and highly processed foods on the other end, including foods whose animal or plant source is unrecognizable (such as chips and cookies). Between those two, we have basic processed foods, which are single-ingredient foods that have been changed in some way, like oil and flour, and moderately processed foods, like pasta sauce. Unfortunately, a 2015 study revealed that 61% of our daily calories come from the highly processed group. So what should we try to minimize, and what’s ok to eat regularly?
Not all processed foods are unhealthy. Some can be beneficial to your diet; for example, bagged salads may help busy families eat more vegetables. However, it’s important to be on the lookout for added sugar, sodium, and fat.
Sugar isn't just found in processed desserts; it’s also hidden in bread, jarred pasta sauces, crackers, and many other foods. Excess added sugar in your diet can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, obesity, difficulty managing type 2 diabetes, high triglyceride levels, and heart disease. Review the ingredients list on the back of packaged items, and if the first two or three ingredients include some form of sugar (maltose, corn syrup, cane sugar, etc.), consider choosing a different product.
Many canned goods and ready-to-eat foods contain added sodium. Salt enhances the flavor and texture of these products, and also acts as a preservative. Our bodies need some sodium, but most of us exceed the Dietary Guidelines recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day, and the majority of our daily sodium intake comes from processed foods. Once again, the trick to reducing sodium intake is to read labels. Look for “reduced sodium” or “low sodium” on labels, and always rinse canned beans and vegetables before use.
Added fats improve the texture of processed foods and make them more shelf-stable. However, we know diets rich in saturated and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, increasing the risk of heart disease. And if eating too much of these fats leads to overweight or obesity, the risks of endometrial, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers increases as well. Food products can still claim they contain “zero trans fats” if each serving contains less than half a gram, and if you eat more than one serving, those small amounts can really add up. Make sure you check the ingredients list; if the product contains hydrogenated oil, it contains some amount of trans fat.
Poti JM, Mendez MA, Ng SW, Popkin BM. Is the degree of food processing and convenience linked with the nutritional quality of foods purchased by US households? Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(6):1251-1262.
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What is high blood pressure, and how is it measured?
Blood pressure is measured using an arm cuff that inflates until it momentarily stops the pulse, and the arterial pressure at that point, called "systolic" pressure, is reflected as the larger number at the top of a standard blood pressure reading. The cuff then releases and once the pressure within the artery reaches it's minimum, the second measurement is taken, called "diastolic" pressure. This is the amount of pressure in your arteries in between heart beats, and is reflected as the lower number at the bottom of a standard blood pressure reading.
Normal blood pressure is defined as having a systolic measurement of less than 120, and diastolic measurement of less than 80. Blood pressure can fluctuate naturally, minute by minute, day by day, due to a number of factors. But if repeat measurements routinely read higher than 120/80, a person is considered to have high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Why is blood pressure important?
Blood pressure is another measure of cardiovascular health. Our arteries are much like a garden hose. When flow is restricted at some point, pressure within the hose increases. When a person has high blood pressure, it means quite literally that the blood flowing through their arteries is placing more pressure than it should on their arterial walls, also putting more strain on their heart, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so routine monitoring of blood pressure is an important preventive measure. Even if your blood pressure is normal, a healthy, active lifestyle can help reduce your risk of future hypertension.
We offer blood pressure testing and consultation in the lab at our Jowers office. To schedule an appointment or request information, contact us. If you have any concerns about your blood pressure, consult your physician.