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Jeff’s Blood Pressure Close-Call

March 26, 2012 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Jeff became a patient a few years ago after his twin brother, Jerry, had a stroke at age 67. Jeff and his brother both had high blood pressure and both had made only token efforts to control it. Now Jeff was concerned about following in his brother’s footsteps. “It’s time to get serious about this,” he told me. “I don’t want to end up in a convalescent home with Jerry.”

For Jeff, the first step in reducing his blood pressure was losing about 35 pounds of excess weight. Since we were overhauling his diet, I stressed the importance of low-sodium fare. The problem was that Jeff owned a popular burger café nearby. Actually, he was not just the owner; he was also one of the best customers. And almost everything on the menu was loaded with salt.

When he complained that his clients would not be happy with flavorless food, it was my turn to get serious. “There’s a big difference between salt and flavor, in my opinion,” I told him. “If you cut back on salt and increase herbs and seasonings, the flavor actually improves. I know, because I’ve done it myself!” Jeff looked skeptical but promised to talk with the kitchen staff and make some changes.

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I was skeptical, too, knowing how involved Jeff was with the café and how difficult it can be to break habits we’ve had for years. But six months later when Jeff came in for a follow-up visit, he looked like a different person. He was still the happy, outgoing guy he’d always been, but the good-sized tummy that used to hang over his belt was nearly gone (yes!); and he walked with a spring in his step that I’d never seen before. “If there’s a silver lining to Jerry’s stroke, this is it,” he told me. “I’ve got a whole new menu going now — low salt, good fats, whole grains, fish, fresh vegetables, and herbs. There’s even a veggie burger! The customers are eating it up, if you’ll pardon the pun. We still have regular burgers, but a whole new crowd is coming in for the healthy stuff.”

Best of all, Jeff’s blood pressure had gone from 220/120 to 135/86, making it far less likely that he’ll experience a heart attack or stroke.

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