Combatting Cayman’s common diseases

High blood pressure and diabetes are the two most prevalent diseases seen among the population of the Cayman Islands. 

Left uncontrolled, both these non-communicable diseases can lead to extremely serious and even fatal outcomes. 

Carefully monitoring what are known as “ABC numbers”, which stands A1C (blood glucose or sugar), blood pressure and cholesterol – can help to lower the chances of a diabetic having a heart attack, a stroke, or developing eye or circulation problems. One of the most important elements in managing hypertension or diabetes is diet. 

Blood pressure often increases as weight increases, so losing even 10 pounds can help reduce blood pressure in many people.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, “In general, the more weight you lose, the lower your blood pressure. Losing weight also makes any blood pressure medications you’re taking more effective. You and your doctor can determine your target weight and the best way to achieve it.”  

And it’s not just about shedding pounds. Waist circumference is also important as carrying too much weight around the waist can put a person at greater risk of high blood pressure. Mayo Clinic recommendations include advice that, in general, men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches and women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches. 

Exercising at least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week can lower blood pressure by 4 to 9 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg). For a person who has not been very active, increasing exercise levels can lower blood pressure within just a few weeks. For people with pre-hypertension — systolic pressure between 120 and 139 or diastolic pressure between 80 and 89 — exercising can help avoid developing full-blown hypertension. If a person already has hypertension, regular physical activity can bring blood pressure down to safer levels.  

Anyone with high blood pressure should monitor it regularly and consult a doctor about developing an exercise and diet programme. A diet to help combat high blood pressure should include whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and cut back on saturated fat and salt. 

Dieticians recommend boosting potassium to lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure by eating fruits and vegetables rich in potassium rather than supplements. People with blood pressure issues should talk to their doctor about their potassium intake. 

Reducing sodium, or salt, even by a small amount, can reduce blood pressure.  

A single teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300mg of sodium, but according to the American Heart Association, the body only needs 200mg of sodium per day.  

Diet can also have a major impact on diabetes, which is left uncontrolled can lead to some serious health problems, including chronic complications to nerves, kidneys and heart. 

Registered dietitian Kristen Lomas says that by having an understanding of how food choices affect blood glucose levels and avoiding certain foods, those complications could be avoided. 

Diabetics need to be aware of the amount of carbohydrates they consume and to follow a “heart-healthy diet” so as to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.  

Saturated fats should also be avoided and amount to no more than 7 per cent of daily calories. 

“Saturated fat is in high-fat dairy products, such as cheese and ice cream, and high fat animal proteins, such as fattier cuts of beef, sausage and bacon. Nutritional labels list saturated fat, so become aware of the amounts in different foods,” said Ms. Lomas. 

Diabetics should also avoid trans fats, which can be found in processed foods, shortening and some stick margarines.  

Like people with high blood pressure, diabetics should also avoid sodium. “Keep your sodium intake to no more than roughly 2,000mg per day – unless your doctor has advised a lower amount. Sodium is also shown on the nutritional label so ensure to look at all the products you buy, especially packaged and processed items,” the dietitian said. 

One of the most important elements in managing hypertension or diabetes is diet. 

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