Eating Well: To Reduce Blood Pressure - #122

BURT WOLF: What you eat can have a great effect on your overall health. For me, changing my diet helped me control my blood pressure. I'll show you how that worked. We'll also travel to Idaho and discover why Idaho potatoes are so famous, and get some potassium-packed Idaho potato recipes. Then we'll join the Navy to see how they use food to stay fit. So join me, Burt Wolf Eating Well, To Reduce Blood Pressure. 

One of the biggest medical problems in America is high blood pressure or hypertension. The underlying cause of disease for over six thousand men and women in our country and there is no warning. Blood pressure is the force exerted by blood as it zips through the sixty thousand miles of piping in our body. When your blood pressure is normal for your age, no problem. When it is high for your age, you could be in for heart disease. The New York Hospital - Cornell Medical Center in New York City is world- famous in the fight against high blood pressure. The center was created and is directed by Dr. John Laragh. 

JOHN LARAGH: The problem is, hyper- tension has built into its biology the fact that you can't feel your blood pressure, no one can feel it, although I've had many patients claim they could. I always snicker when they tell me that because invariably they'll say what is it today, it's up Doc? And I take it, and it isn't. They can't feel it. So the only... hypertension as a disease has been appropriately called many times, the “silent killer.” Because for the first fifteen or twenty years of the average case of high blood pressure, the patient notices nothing. 

BURT WOLF: The way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your doctor check it. It's very easy test, it doesn't hurt and it could save your life. A cuff gets put around your arm, air is puffed into the cuff to tighten it. And a reading is taken of your pressure as the cuff is loosened. The single most important point I can make about blood pressure is to know your numbers. Get your blood pressure taken as soon as taken and if you've got a problem fix it. 

A few years ago my doctor discovered that I had high blood pressure and he put me on medications. I had to take one of these little pills every morning and every evening. I didn't notice any side effects and it did control of blood pressure but I was worried about the idea of being on medication for the rest of my life. I'd seen a lot of scientific research that what I ate, or what I didn't eat could affect my pressure. And I wanted to work with my doctor to see what I could do with my diet to keep my blood pressure normal. It appears there are a number of things I can really do that will help.

First of all, find out what your blood pressure is. Then get to your proper weight. Eat a diet that is generally low in sodium. Avoid alcoholic beverages. And eat more of the foods that are rich in potassium and magnesium. That's all real easy stuff and I'll show you how to do it. More than half the people with high blood pressure are also overweight. So I could make a major contribution to controlling my blood pressure with my fork, by not putting it in my mouth so often. Ah, if it were only that easy. Try to lose a pound a week until you get to your proper weight. Even a loss of five or seven pounds can have a drastic impact on reducing or controlling your blood pressure. Next you want to reduce the sodium content of your diet. Sodium is the part of salt that gives salt its salty taste. It's a mineral, it's an essential part of our body chemistry. Our bodies wouldn't function without sodium. It's always been a big deal. Sodium and salt have been essential for the preservation of our food supply in the period before we had refrigeration. 

The ancient Romans used salt as a form of payment of their soldiers. It's where the word “salary” came from. If a man didn't do a good job, hey, he wasn't worth his salt. In Leonardo DiVinci's painting of The Last Supper, Judas is shown with an overturned salt dish in front of him, an evil omen even then. For some people the amount of sodium in their diet is no big deal one way or the other. If there's an excess amount, they just pass it through their kidneys. For other people, excess sodium in their diet leads to high blood pressure. And those people must move to a diet lower in sodium. Many doctors think a low- sodium diet is good for everybody, especially as we get older. For many people, lowering their intake of salt or sodium can go a long way towards lowering their blood pressure. You know, you're not born with your love of salt, you learn it. So you can unlearn it. 

A great salt substitute in terms of flavor that seems to come with almost every dish is fresh parsley. It helps you digest your food and it's Mother Nature’s breath freshener. Parsley contains so many valuable nutrients that it is often the most healthful food on the plate. Since seventy-five percent of the sodium we take in comes from highly processed foods, be sure to read the labels carefully. Salt comes in many different forms. Be on the look out for ingredients like salt, baking soda, baking powder, disodium solphate, monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrate, sodium sulphate, buillion and soy sauce. What you're watching out for is the word sodium in any form. Alcoholic beverages are a total waste of calories and they appear to increase blood pressure too. An excellent substitute is orange juice. It's rich in potassium, which can help control blood pressure. 

You'll also find plenty of potassium in potatoes, and when you talk about potatoes it's essential to talk about Idaho. (MUSIC) The geological history of Idaho has given it some fascinating surface features. Idaho has more than two hundred mountains that go up over eight thousand feet. Ancient glacier ice formed lakes and seas which deposited valuable layers of sediment in the soil. River systems carved a web of canyons including North America's deepest gorge, and lava flow covered most of the state's surface. Interesting information if you're a geologist or a tourist, but what is all of this geography got to do with cooking? Well, if you love potatoes, just about everything. In 1860 gold was discovered in Northern Idaho and prospectors from all over the world rushed in to the territory. They found gold, but they also found silver and a dazzling variety of precious and semi-precious gems. The volume and assortment were so enormous that very soon Idaho became known as “The Gem State.” These valuable minerals are actually the result of the unique geological history of the area. There were glaciers, enormous pressures that pushed up mountains, volcanos and incredible changes in climate. One of the results was a truly unique soil, very heavy in volcanic ash and other valuable minerals. Eventually, the soil produced its own gastronomic gem, the Idaho potato. With a fluffy and meaty texture, high in solids and low in moisture, the Idaho Russet is a gold mine of nutrients. On April 14th 1860, the first permanent settlement was established in a territory which eventually became the state of Idaho. The hardy farmers who came in here were Mormons who had pushed north from Utah. Today, Idaho is one of our most important farm states, and its most famous product is the Idaho potato. Most of the farmers here in Idaho who plant potatoes, plant a special variety known as Russet Burbank. They're named after Luther Burbank, who was an amazing character who spent his life experimenting with plants. And he was the first one to develop this unusual potato.

The Idaho Russett Burbank potato is ideal for baking. And because of its shape, it's ideal for a unique use. It makes an excellent outer wrapping for other foods. For example, take a Russett Burbank peeled, but raw. Cut it into very thin slices; do it lengthwise so you get the biggest surface possible. Set the potato slices on a flat surface, edge to edge. And take a piece of boneless, skinless fish and set it in the center on top of the potatoes. Fold up the potato slices until you have a neatly wrapped package. Then saute the package in a little vegetable oil, for about six minutes on each side. Talk about a great stuffed potato.

Scientific researchers tell us that primitive man may have been in Idaho for the past fifteen thousand years. Ancient campsites indicate the tribes of Nomadic hunters entered what is now the state of Idaho as they followed herds of animals at the end of the last Ice Age. I'm only a little over fifty years old myself, so I can't give you much first-hand information about what did or did not happen around here thirteen thousand years ago. But I can tell you from direct personal research that today Idaho is populated by tribes of potato farmers who are anything but primitive about their approach to raising Idaho potatoes. When it comes to people who have down-to-earth potato knowledge, Idaho is the world epicenter. So far today, I've learned that when these potatoes bake, their complex carbohydrate starch grains absorb the water inside the potato. Each potato swells up, separates and makes the baked potato light and fluffy. And that's just the beginning of today's science lesson. 

They program information on irrigation into their computer system to make sure that their tubers get just the right around of moisture. They track rainfall, they track timetables for planting and digging and fertilizing. Technicians test the soil on each farm at least once each week to determine the plants’ nutritional needs. They feed the data into their computers, which in turn print out a detailed plan for each farmer. My favorite computer is the one that stores the Idaho potato recipes. More potato recipes than any area its size on the surface of the entire plant. Idaho's unofficial state slogan is “This Spud's For You.” 

The Chef at Duck's American Bar and Grill in Boise showed me five of his favorite potato recipes during the first five minutes of our meeting. He offered to show me his top fifty. But I thought his layered potatoes and vegetables would be enough for now. Two partially cooked Idaho potatoes are thinly sliced and layered into a heat-proof baking pan. Whenever you're slicing a potato or any other food you want to hold it with the tips of your fingers turned in. The knife blade should be able to go against the front of your finger and not hit the tips. Very important. You might want to use the tips of your fingers again later in your life. Then strips or slices of eggplant that have been grilled or sauteed. Some basil, disks of goat cheese, dried tomatoes, a little more basil and few capers. By the way, most of the time, the smaller the caper the better the taste. The pan goes into a 350 degree oven for thirty-five minutes. Slide a serving onto a plate and you are ready to serve an excellent vegetable dish. It's an interesting recipe. It's like lasagne, but we've used potatoes to layer it instead of pasta. One of the things I like to do with an Idaho potato is cook it in two parts. On day one I bake the Idaho potato the way you normally would and then use the inside to make old-fashioned mashed potatoes. After the potatoes are baked, slice them in half and scoop out the center, that's called the meat of the potato. When you're scooping out a potato, don't scoop too close to the skin or it will collapse. Leave yourself a nice wall of internal potato. Break up the potato with a whisk and blend a little skim milk, a little plain low-fat yogurt and a little pepper. Served with a little salsa on the side, hot stuff. I serve the mashed potatoes on day one and what I have left are potato skins. I take the skins and I freeze them waiting for day two, which could be the next day or any day thereafter. And I take them out on my second day and I deep fry them or I barbeque them right over the grill, using an interesting wood like mesquite for flavor. Or I bake them a second time until they're crispy and I serve them with an interesting dipping sauce. Grilled potato skins taste good and they’re good for you too. Served with the dipping sauce on the side, they make a great easy appetizer. Lovers of good food have often agreed that in cooking as in most arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection. Roasting poultry is simple but to do it perfectly is an art. Same thing for grilling a piece of fish. Simple technique, but a work of art when done to perfection. Recently I was given a great example of the simplicity theory in action. Barbara Walters is the wife of one of Idaho's leading potato growers, Warren Walters. Barbara showed me her potato recipe for lemony Idaho potato salad, perfectly simple. A quarter cup of olive oil goes into a mixing bowl, then the juice and zest of one lemon. Two teaspoons of dried oregano. When you're using a dried herb, it's a good idea to break it up in your hands, before you break it up in your recipe. That will crack the cell walls and the essence of the herb will come to the surface; you'll get much more flavor. Ground black pepper and finally two pounds of boiled potatoes, cut into bite- size pieces. Whenever I use a potato in a recipe, I try to use the skin. I like the color and the crunch and the texture, but most important many of the valuable nutrients in a potato are in the skin or in the meat right under the skin and I don't want to lose them. 

The big payoff is that potatoes are rich in a mineral called potassium and researchers are beginning to see that potassium may help control blood pressure. Other top potassium foods are raisins, orange juice, bananas, apricots, skim milk, buttermilk and haddock. Another great source of potassium are beans, especially Navy beans. So let's go to sea with the U.S. Navy and see what they're cooking. 

In 1845 Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft founded the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, on the site of an old army post called Fort Severn. At the time, the U.S. Navy was made up of wooden sailing vessels but it needed to make a transformation to a fleet of steam-driven, iron-hulled warships. The Academy was the place where officers were trained for the new Navy. It was a highly technical Navy and the students were taught engineering, math, physics and chemistry. And that scientific tradition continues today. The Naval Academy has produced the largest number of astronauts than any institution. And what an amazing institution it is. Many of the buildings and monuments represent the highlights of naval history. The actual campus has been designated as a national tourist attraction, with much of the area open to visitors from 0900 to sunset. Bancroft Hall is the world's largest dormitory building. All 4,500 midshipmen, male and female, live on its thirty three acres of interior space. Well, I'm impressed. They live by their code of honor. They're smart a bunch of young people as I've ever seen, and when it comes to physical fitness, look out, sports fans. 


All that exercise leads to some big appetites, which the Academy's kitchen is equipped to handle. These days the milk is low-fat and the potato skins are left on for their valuable nutrients. At each meal almost five thousand people sit down to eat. And the system is so well structured that everyone gets served within three minutes. (CHEERS) Meals are a time not only for dining, but for impressing the senior classmen with your newly acquired knowledge.


BURT WOLF: And rising to any occasion that presents itself.


BURT WOLF: A wave of enthusiasm, quite suitable for the Navy. Quantity has always been an objective for the food service personnel here. But in recent years there's been an ever-increasing interest in the nutritional quality of the meals. Members of the American Dietetic Association now serve in the Navy and help develop the basic menus with an eye toward the relationship between good food and good health, with a good sense of humor too.

LT. LAURIE CUTLIP: There are two nutritionists, registered dieticians and they were accidentally killed. They both ended up at heaven at the same time and they saw the streets paved in gold and the pearly gates and the one dietician said to the other, you know we could have been here sooner if it hadn't been for oat bran. (LAUGHTER) 

BURT WOLF: What's actually happening here at the Academy in terms of nutrition?

LT. LAURIE CUTLIP: Well, we've made several changes and I think we'll see several changes in the future. Specifically we've changed our frying method, when foods are fried, they're fried in polyunsaturated fats now, versus the lard that was used in the past. And we've also incorporated more whole-grain breads and cereals to give the midshipmen healthier choices.

BURT WOLF: What do you tell midshipmen about good food and good health?

LT. LAURIE CUTLIP: I try to educate them if they're having hamburgers to skip the extra cheese that's available to put on top, to choose mustard instead of mayonnaise. Helping them to cut down on the fat and the calories. 

BURT WOLF: Do you find they're responsive to that information?

LT. LAURIE CUTLIP: They're very responsive. Many times they don't really realize that small changes can make a big difference. If they forego one pat of margarine a day in a year, they'll have lost five pounds. It's... if you're overweight, you've been overweight for a long time, make the effort, don't look for a quick cure. Do it slowly, take it off and keep it off.

BURT WOLF: No doubt about it. Today's Navy is taking a greater and greater interest in nutrition. (HORN SOUND) But there were naval heroes who very early on understood the relationship between good food and good seamanship. During the War of 1812, Captain Lawrence said, “never give up the shrimp,” telling his men how important it was to get their protein from low-fat foods. And then there was Commander Perry, who said, “I have met the enemy and it is saturated fat.” Boy, we've all come to find out how true that is. And perhaps most important of all, John Paul Jones who said, “I have not yet begun to diet,” telling all of us that diet is not a short term battle but a lifestyle. 


At the very heart of the United States Naval Academy is a commitment to discipline, precision and self-control. (SOUNDS OF MARCHING) Discipline, precision and self-control, the same elements that are at the core of eating properly.

MAN: Sir, United States Navael Academy Silent Drill Team, requests permission to reduce saturated fat, Sir. 

SECOND MAN: Reduce saturated fat.

BURT WOLF: Now that's an order we can carry out with the fleet. Come right to tortellini with Navy bean sauce. (BOSUN’S WHISTLE) Commence cooking! Vector in two tablespoons heated vegetable oil! One cup finely chopped onion, one tablespoon finely chopped garlic! Hold steady thirty seconds! “Aye-aye, sir.” One cup chopped tomato! Two tablespoons tomato paste! Closing! Launch one-half pound of Navy beans that have been soaked in water from 0000 to 0800 hours! Minimum soak time, eight hours! In: seven cups chicken broth! Hold for conformation! “Aye-aye, sir!” Proceed with pepper! Caution with salt! Simmer, uncovered, one and one half hours!1 Puree in blender! BLEND! BLEND! BLEND! (A-UH-GA!) Put onto precooked vegetable tortellini! CLOSER! CLOSER! Top with chopped basil! CLOSER! CLOSER! SERVE! The beans, combined with the pasta, result in a high-impact nutritional package capable of delivering an almost perfect gastronomic punch. On target for high taste, low-fat and fully charged with complex carbohydrates. A modern approach to defending our nation against the evil forces of improper diet. 

MAN: Officer of the deck, I have an unidentified frying object, bearing zero-nine-zero at two thousand yards. 

OFFICER: Unidentified frying object zero-nine-zero, two thousand yards aye. Helmsman, alter course! Increase complex carbohydrates.

HELMSMAN: Increase complex carbohydrates, aye. 

OFFICER: Lead helmsman, reduce saturated fat, by two-thirds.

LEAD HELMSMAN: Reduce saturated fats by two-thirds, aye.


OFFICER: Very well.

BURT WOLF: Now if we can just get a fix on increasing our fiber, we could be in ship-shape. But staying in ship-shape is not just diet. At least half the battle is fought with exercise. Exercise that must be carried out by our naval officers even while they are under the stress of duty at sea. The job of designing the fleet’s exercise program is one of the responsibilities of Phil Emery, and his techniques work as well for civilians.

PHIL EMERY: You know the most basic thing that people have always done to keep in shape is just a simple push-up or a simple sit-up, or I'm sure we can always find something to hang on a little bit in a ship and do a simple pull-up. And to do those, trying to get a little bit better each time they do. If they add one rep, they've gotten stronger and they've maintained their fitness. 

We can do squats without any weight at all to keep tone in the legs, or we can add a buddy and put him on our back and squat with a buddy. So we've got a lot of different ways that we can do that and go about it.

BURT WOLF: So let me see what the three keys were. Push-ups. 

PHIL EMERY: Keep our back straight, try and keep our butt down, come -- lower yourself nice and slow and when you get to the chin, push up. All right? And this gives us great resistance in those muscle groups. Just shoulders and triceps.


PHIL EMERY: How many we got? Twenty-five? 

BURT WOLF: Hanging from something.

PHIL EMERY: Hanging from something so we can do some pull-ups.

BURT WOLF: Pull-ups. And--

PHIL EMERY: And some non-weight squats.

BURT WOLF: Non-weight squats.

PHIL EMERY: Body weight squats.

BURT WOLF: Okay. Three?

PHIL EMERY: How you feeling?

BURT WOLF: I'm feeling fine. 

PHIL EMERY: Good. Get to around twenty, you'll start to feel a little bit of burn in there. This is a great way to stay in shape on a ship. How many we got, Burt?

BURT WOLF: Ahh, I think this is ten. 

PHIL EMERY: Is this ten?

BURT WOLF: Eleven. 

PHIL EMERY: Oh, I'm having a hard time keeping up with you.

BURT WOLF: Sit-ups. 

PHIL EMERY: Here we go. 

BURT WOLF: I'm having--

PHIL EMERY: Come on up. 


PHIL EMERY: This is not fair. I've got two -- There we go. And we're doing some good work. So right there, we're doing some good hard work.

BURT WOLF: I'm not getting anywhere--

PHIL EMERY: Oh, yeah. 

BURT WOLF: How come?

PHIL EMERY: Because, well, we might need to -- to continue this exercise routine throughout the week. As long as we've got some space between the ground and the shoulder blades, those stomach muscles are doing a good amount of work. 

BURT WOLF: I'll keep doing these until I get to my knees.


BURT WOLF: Actually I feel like I'm on my knees already. But I am inspired by the men and women of the United States Naval Academy and I will, at the very least, try to follow their lead and incorporate the knowledge that I have gained here about exercise and protecting against high blood pressure.

Let me recap how you can use your knife and fork and even your spoon to help control your blood pressure. But remember, no matter what I say about good food and good health, we're only talking about information in general. What's right for any particular individual is something you can only learn from you own doctor or personal visit to a member of the American Dietetic Association. 

First and most important, before you can do anything about your blood pressure, you have to find out what it is. Have it checked by a medical authority and find out whether you have a problem for your age. If you do have a problem, here are a few things you might consider. 

If you're not at your proper weight, work towards it, but work towards it slowly. It's not realistic to spend years with a weight problem and expect to knock it off in weeks. I'm sure you realize that most of the people who crash it off crash it right back on. 

Next you want to avoid alcoholic beverages. They actually appear to increase your blood pressure. You also want to eat a diet that is generally low in salt or sodium. You may not have a salt problem now, but research tells us that for many people, salt becomes part of the blood pressure problem as they become older. 

Finally, even though the scientific evidence is still preliminary, it looks like foods high in potassium, magnesium and calcium may be valuable in helping to control hypertension. These are not difficult recommendations, and they should be fun to follow.

And let's not forget what we learned at the United States Naval Academy about using exercise to control blood pressure. It's a marvelous tool. Well, that's Eating Well To Reduce Blood Pressure. Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for things that taste good and make it easier to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.