The common belief that Thai food is far healthier than the diet of fatty foods in the West is not
. However, it obscures the reality of some of the most pressing health crises in Thailand, one of which is hypertension
or high blood pressure (HBP).
A leading cause of death globally, around one in three of the population of the US suffer with HBP while Thailand is experiencing an alarming increase in cases. As well as cardiac arrest, HBP can lead to strokes and a multitude of other major health concerns.
Thailand’s Hypertension Numbers
One in four people in Thailand have HBP according to a 2015 National Health Examination Survey. In terms of having their blood pressure under control the statistics jump to less than one in three people. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of people in the country with hypertension rose by over 2.5 million and while Thais may be renowned for their smaller frames, the reality is that global health issues are just as prevalent in Thailand as they are in other parts of the world.
In 2016, the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand implemented a policy to reduce the populations intake of salt and sodium by 30% by 2025. This ties-in with a global target to reduce the instances of higher blood pressure by 25% by the same year.
What Causes Hypertension?
There are many factors that can result in HBP, including a number of underlying diseases such as a problem with the kidneys, sleep apnoea and also diabetes. Often an unhealthy diet and not enough exercise are major contributing factors to what’s called primary hypertension (PH), while some people’s natural blood pressure is high from the get-go and this is due to secondary hypertension (SH). While the heart has to work harder, there are often little or no symptoms as HBP develops over time.
Age is a risk factor as is being overweight, not being active enough and smoking. Too much sodium in the diet retains fluid in the body and this increases blood pressure. Another issue can be not enough potassium which acts as an important counter to the sodium, while excess alcohol and stress both take their toll.
Nutrition Support Team Hypertension Tips
Bumrungrad Hospital’s Nutrition Support Team advise many patients on how to lower their blood pressure naturally through awareness and making positive and sustainable lifestyle changes. Here are their top diet tips to combat HBP:
- Know your daily salt intake recommendations which amount to no more than 2.3 grams per day which is equal to less than a teaspoon per day per person if you want to lower blood pressure. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 5 grams of salt per day, while reports in Thailand reveal an average consumption of 10.8 grams of salt per day.
- Don’t add too much fish sauce or soy sauce to dishes and be mindful that this amount should be no more than a few teaspoons per day. Look for low-sodium varieties to help keep levels in check.
- Rather than adding salt to dishes, add as a final ingredient or season once you’ve tasted a dish so you’re just using salt as a condiment. That way you can control the amount of sodium you’re consuming more easily. It’s good to remember that you need to train your taste buds too so that they are not craving salt in the same way that some people need to train their body not to crave sugar.
- Be aware of foods that are not obviously high-sodium such as processed meats, canned beans, canned soup and sauces. If low-sodium options aren’t available it’s best to avoid these foods altogether.
- Get into the habit of reading food labels to educate yourself on what foods are healthy and which foods aren’t. You might be surprised that some of the foods you consider to be good for you are in fact the opposite. There’re big differences between brands too so give yourself extra time when you do a food shop to consider more carefully what you add to your cart.
- Cut down or cut out alcohol which over time can lead to heart damage. It’s not recommended for women to drink more than one drink a day, and men two drinks, otherwise blood pressure could be adversely affected. Tea and coffee can temporarily cause your blood pressure to spike. It’s recommended that caffeine should be limited to 200 mg/day, equivalent to one cup of coffee, while decaffeinated coffee and tea is an option too.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and the brighter the color the better as these tend to be richer in magnesium and potassium. Foods such as spinach, tomatoes, bananas and oranges, as well as Chinese broccoli, are great choices along with nuts and berries. There has been some research into the effects of celery juice on lowering blood pressure due to a phytochemical that aides better blood flow by relaxing the artery-wall lining. However, as of yet, there aren’t any conclusive results on this, and because celery has a higher sodium level than many other vegetables should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
- Control your intake of meats and saturated fats as well as trans-fats and cholesterol.
- Stay active. Part of nutrition is how you use the fuel in your body and 30 minutes of exercise a day is a good way to reduce any excess weight and lower raised blood pressure in the process.
The Nutrition Support Team offer nutrition counselling as part of their service, providing confidential and personalized care with a holistic approach to treating the whole person. While nutrition is based on science, the department philosophy is to deliver emphatic support along with facts and workable solutions. That way individuals feel inspired to set and reach attainable goals, with the help of professionals who understand the complexities of peoples’ lives and the challenges they face.