10 Best And Worst Foods For Your Blood Pressure

Read time: 4 Minutes

It affects 30-40% of all people in Ireland, 50% of those over the age of 45, around 4 out of every 5 men and 2 out of every 3 women.

Although high blood pressure affects so many of us, most of us probably even don’t realise we have it. Unless you suffer from problems with your kidneys, adrenal gland or thyroid or unless it runs in your family, there’s rarely a single cause of high blood pressure and it’s mostly symptomless.

For the majority of people, the only way to know if you suffer from high blood pressure is to get it measured by your doctor. It’s recommended that you get your blood pressure taken at least every five years or more frequently if you’re overweight, a smoker or drink alcohol regularly.

What is high blood pressure?

All of us have blood pressure – it’s the work your heart has to do to pump blood around the body. If you have high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), this means your heart has to work harder.

Generally, a blood pressure reading of 120/80 is normal and a reading of 140/90 is considered high.

Dangers of high blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors of heart disease and stroke – two of the primary causes of death in Ireland.

Worst foods for blood pressure - salt

How to treat high blood pressure

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will give you the best advice on how to manage it and will tell you if you require medication to control it.

To aid things further, there are certain measures you can take with your diet to ensure you’re not consuming anything that may heighten things.

Generally the advice is to minimise your salt intake, as sodium works on your kidneys and makes your body hold on to more water. This excess of water raises your blood pressure and puts extra strain on your kidneys, arteries and your heart.

But binning your salt shaker won’t solve the problem – you also need to consider the foods in your diet and ingredients in your cupboard that contain too much sodium.

When it comes to high blood pressure, you’ll often hear the term ‘DASH diet’. This stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension and consists of foods that are low in sodium but high in powerful minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium which can counter the impact of salt in the body.

If you’re new to the ‘DASH diet’ or aren’t sure which foods will affect your blood pressure, here are the best and worst foods for hypertension

Best Foods For Your Blood Pressure

Bananas

Bananas are one of the most potassium-rich foods you can eat, with up to 12% of your recommended daily intake. Potassium is great for those with high blood pressure as it counterbalances the effects of salt on blood pressure. Bananas also contain good levels of calcium and magnesium.

bananas

Sweet potatoes

Often cited as a ‘superfood’ sweet potatoes are rich in potassium and magnesium and are high in fibre. You can use them to make a great alternative to chips.

Avocado

Avocados are another great potassium rich food. Studies have also revealed its abilities to reduce cholesterol and fat in the body and control inflammatory stress.

avocado toasts

Chocolate

Some research has shown dark chocolate’s ability to reduce high blood pressure, as it has relatively high levels of magnesium. Magnesium is thought to help blood pressure by enabling the body to regulate blood flow. Research by the University of Hertfordshire in early 2017 revealed that in many cases people with higher than average blood pressure often have a magnesium deficiency.

Eggs

When we think of heart health in general, we don’t tend to think of eggs as they’re commonly associated with high cholesterol. However, it is thought that for most people, the cholesterol consumed in eggs, does not affect the body’s own cholesterol levels. In fact, they’re believed to be good for your heart and your blood pressure – specifically egg whites. Although more research is still to be done, initial studies on rats found that when they were fed a protein found in egg whites, they experienced a significant drop in blood pressure.

Worst foods for your blood pressure

Canned soup

When it comes to high blood pressure, it’s advised to avoid canned or pre-packaged foods as they will often contain higher levels of salt to preserve the ingredients. Although canned soup can seem like a good cost effective meal, they are often very high in sodium.

Pickles

Pickles are another high sodium food. Anything that is preserved usually contains a high level of salt as salt prevents decay and keeps the food edible for longer. The longer a food is in a jar or can of preserving liquid, the more salt it will absorb.

Pickles are rich in sodium

Tomato sauces

Whether it’s canned tomatoes, tomato pasta sauces or tomato juice – many pre-made tomato based products will be high in salt. As tomato products form the heart of many of our favourite dishes, you can cut the sodium by making your own sauces with fresh tomatoes, olive oil and herbs.

Coffee

Although many of us feel we need coffee to just function and get through the day, your daily cup (or cups) could be detrimental to your blood pressure as it causes a temporary spike. This is true of all caffeinated products including energy drinks and even tea.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol in moderation (one drink per day or less) is not thought to increase your blood pressure, but overindulging and consuming large amounts can be dangerous and lead to long-term blood pressure increases. Heavy drinkers who want to lower their blood pressure are advised to cut their drinking back gradually as going cold turkey can lead to severe blood pressure increases for a few days.

Effects of alcohol consumption on blood pressure - couple drinking

Conclusion

Although the foods on this list are generally considered to impact blood pressure (either improving or negatively impacting it), a good diet needs to work in combination with regular exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle to improve your blood pressure.

Before making any changes to your diet, you should always seek professional, medical advice and, if you’re unsure of your blood pressure, there’s no better time to make that appointment and get it checked.

Are you surprised by any foods on this list? Let us know on social media using the hashtag #MyIrishLife

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Do You Really Need To Go Gluten Free? Is It Actually Good For You?

Read time: 5 Minutes

There’s no denying that going gluten free is one of the most popular health trends of recent years. Celebrities endorse it, there are gluten free cookbooks on the shelves and the gluten free aisles of supermarkets are getting bigger by the day.

According to research from Kantar, the UK Free From market is valued at £740m and grew by 27% in the last year. Within this, the Gluten Free market accounts for nearly 60% of the category and is valued at £438 million, increasing by 36% over 2015.

The benefits of going gluten free are claimed to be endless; from weight loss to aiding digestive issues. But is going gluten free actually good for you?

 What exactly is gluten?

Gluten is a mixture of two proteins (glutenin and gliadin) present in cereal grains and is responsible for the elasticity in dough. Wheat is the most popular gluten-containing grain.

Why go gluten free?

People with digestive issues and disorders such as celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten. It’s an autoimmune disorder, where the body treats gluten like a foreign threat to the system. The immune system retaliates by attacking the gluten, but also the lining of the gut.

Do You Really Need To Go Gluten Free?

Celiac is thought to affect 1% of the population and the most common symptoms are bloating, digestive discomfort, abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, skin rashes and tissue damage in the small intestines.

There are also other people who have non celiac gluten sensitivity or a wheat intolerance who may benefit from a gluten free diet.

If only 1% of the population have celiac disease, why are so many people going gluten free?

Some health experts argue that gluten is harmful to most people and is not necessary in our diets. Some people who suffer from digestive issues assume that gluten is causing their pain and discomfort and will eliminate it from their diets as a result.

And, as most gluten free options are found in the health food aisles, there’s a general belief that these foods are better for you.

In addition, many celebrities and influencers endorse going gluten free, which has raised much greater awareness of the diet and established it as a trend.

However, despite the popularity, there is very little evidence to support the theory that going gluten free is beneficial to your health, if you do not have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

farmers-bread-388647_1920.jpg

Is gluten free harmful if you don’t have celiac, a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten?

There is also very little evidence to suggest that going gluten free can be harmful for those who do not need to do so for medical reasons. But, that said, if you remove anything from your diet you risk nutritional deficiencies.

Some medical professionals argue that cutting gluten out of your diet can leave you lacking in many nutrients, such as iron, as going gluten free often means accepting an entirely new, restrictive diet.

While gluten itself doesn’t offer any nutritional benefits, many of the grains which contain gluten do.  And, as gluten is contained in a very wide variety of foods, eliminating gluten can restrict your food options which may be harmful to your health.

How do I tell if I need to go gluten free?

Always seek advice from your doctor before eliminating anything from your diet and embarking on a gluten free lifestyle.

If you’re suffering from digestive issues and suspect it may be to do with your gluten intake first, talk to your doctor first and get tested for celiac, wheat intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Gluten is present in cereal grains

Can I try going gluten free?

The bottom line is that gluten isn’t proven to be inherently bad but gluten free foods and a gluten free diet are also not proven to be inherently healthy.

If you embark on a gluten-free diet you may indeed note positive health benefits. It is likely that you will experience weight loss, as foods high in gluten tend to also be high in calories and sugars.

However, if you are going to make any significant change to your diet, you should not only carry out extensive research from reputable sources but also, always get advice from a professional.

What is your opinion on going gluten free? Let us know by using the hashtag #MyIrishLife on social media or by leaving a comment below.

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Irish Life is one of Ireland’s leading financial services companies with over 1 million customers. For over 75 years, we’ve been helping people in Ireland look after their life insurancepension and investment needs.

What Should My Toddler Be Eating? Meal Ideas And 25 Foods To Try

Read time: 4 Minutes

Just like you, your toddler needs a balanced diet to ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need to fuel their bodies as best they can.

But if you have a toddler, you probably just rolled your eyes when you read that last sentence. Feeding a toddler is a battle and trying to feed them nothing but healthy food can be an all-out war.

They might be small, but they know the difference between carrots and a biscuit. And they know which one they’d rather have.

Most of the time getting any food into them is a cause for celebration, so how do you ensure not only that they’re getting enough food but that they’re getting the right food too?

In this article, we’re going to give you an idea of which foods are best to feed your growing little one, so when it comes to bribing them with snacks or hiding ingredients in their dinner, you can rest a bit easier knowing that they’re getting the good stuff.

Toddler with ice cream

Protein

Protein is an important part of a toddler’s diet as it’s vital for growth and brain development.

Animal proteins such as fish, cheese and lean meats are great as they include all 9 essential amino acids that children need to get from their food. If your child follows a vegetarian or plant based diets, beans and pulses are great foods but don’t contain all 9 amino acids, so will need to be combined with other proteins for the greatest benefit.

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Turkey breast
  • Beans – black beans and kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Hummous

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Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates should also be part of your toddler’s diet as they are the body’s primary source of fuel and, let’s face it, toddlers have a lot of energy. Complex carbohydrates (like wholegrains) are best for toddlers as they take longer to digest and the slow absorption of sugar means your toddler has a steady supply of energy.

However, if your child is under one year old, it’s best to avoid the wholegrains as they can be harder for them to digest, make them feel too full and may impact their absorption of minerals like iron and calcium.

When it comes to carbs, it’s best to try a few different things like pasta and muesli and see how your child responds.

  • Wild rice and wholegrain rice
  • Quinoa
  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Sweet potato

Fats

As well as protein, little ones also need fat in their diet for growth and brain development, in fact, it’s thought that toddlers should get around half their daily calories from fat.

Fats are a concentrated source of energy, they slow the absorption of carbohydrates and enable the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like A,D, E and K. Nuts are one of the best sources of healthy fats and while for adults they make a great snack, they can present a choking hazard for children, so use organic nut butters as a substitute, perhaps with some apple or other fruit to dip in.

  • Avocado
  • Organic nut butters
  • Chia seeds
  • Whole milk
  • Eggs
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese

toddler nutrition - proteins from eggs

Fruit and vegetables

Some form of mashed up vegetable will probably be your child’s first real solid food. And while they probably loved that mushy carrot puree at first, you might notice that as they gain some independence, try new foods and learn to feed themselves, they become a little fussier with the fruit and veg.

While every parent knows that it’s impossible to force your child to eat more of fruit and vegetables, they are really important components in a toddler’s diet. They provide essential minerals and vitamins (like vitamin C) and can help their immune system ward off sickness.

When it comes to fruit and veg, make sure they are as whole as possible, avoid canned items or fruit juices when you can as they often have too much salt and sugar.

If you’re lucky enough to have a child that enjoys eating the good stuff, or if you just have ninja skills when it comes to sneaking things into food, here are some of the best veg and fruits for toddlers – ones that they’re actually quite likely to enjoy:

  • Carrot
  • Asparagus
  • Dried fruit
  • Raw peppers
  • Peas
  • Apple
  • Banana

toddler-meal-fruit.jpg

Toddler daily meal plan

Breakfast

  • Porridge (about ½ cup) made with whole milk
  • Half a chopped up banana

Lunch

  • Hummus on wholegrain toast
  • Half a cup of chopped up roast chicken
  • Quarter of an avocado chopped up

Dinner

  • Salmon (1/2) a fillet
  • Half a cup of wholegrain pasta
  • Half a cup of steamed broccoli

Snacks

  • One small yoghurt
  • Handful of raisins
  • Half and apple (chopped up) with tbsp. of organic almond butter to dip

toddler full of energy - escaping sandbox

How many calories does my toddler need?

As a ballpark figure, toddlers need around 35-40 calories per pound of body weight. However, it’s important not to strictly control what or how much your child is eating, unless told to do so by a doctor or professional.

Instead focus on developing a healthy relationship towards food. Lead by example, showing them how it’s fun to try a variety of different things and to eat when you’re hungry. Make meal times as pleasant as you can (which can be hard if you’re getting broccoli thrown at you by a squealing miniature demon).

Don’t use food or take away food as a punishment, don’t force your child to eat and try not to use food treats as a bribe. If you have any concerns with your child’s diet or their weight, or if you’re introducing variety of new foods, it’s always best to talk to a doctor or specialist who can not only give you the best professional advice, but advice that is catered to your child’s particular health and needs.

Supplements, vitamins and minerals for toddlers

The government recommends that all growing children, aged six months to five years, are given a vitamin supplement every day that contains vitamins A, C and D. These can usually be bought over the counter at pharmacies or health stores. Always talk to your doctor before giving these to your child to ensure that you are giving them the correct vitamins and the correct dose.

Child eating cereals

Top tips for feeding toddlers

  • Change meals up frequently to give your child variety and prevent them from getting bored of certain foods.
  • Stick to a schedule of when to eat
  • Avoid food bribes
  • Believe your child when they say they are full
  • Don’t use food as punishment
  • Lead by example
  • Make meal times enjoyable

What are your top tips for feeding a toddler? Let us know by using the hashtag #MyIrishLife

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10 Unexpected Foods That Are Great For Your Skin

Read time: 3 Minutes

If you were to add up the price of every item of skincare you’ve ever bought, the figure would probably terrify you.

Even though we know deep down that they rarely make a difference, many of us can be a little guilty of splurging on the latest must-have beauty item just to see if it really lives up to the hype.

More often than not, the answer is disappointing and the €90 face cream does as much as the €5 one.

The truth is, there are only three real secrets to getting great skin – expensive plastic surgery, genes and a good diet. And, as a good diet is probably the most realistic way to make an impact, we’re taking a look at some of the top unexpected skin foods you can add to your weekly grocery shop to get that coveted glowing complexion.

  1. Chocolate

Is there anything chocolate can’t fix? It’s the ultimate comfort food, it tastes great and it has benefits for your skin too. If you chow down on chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao, the flavanols (a range of natural compounds found in plants) can help against sun damage and reduce puffiness.

chocolate

  1. Yoghurt

Yoghurt is a great diet staple. It’s an excellent probiotic for your gut health and when you eat a high protein type, like Greek yoghurt, it can help firm your skin, reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

  1. Eggs

Eggs are low in fat, high in protein and the yolks are rich in Vitamin A which is excellent for the skin. Eggs also contain selenium which protects against cell damage.

  1. Pomegranates

Perhaps not the most typical food to add to your shopping list, but pomegranates are great for your complexion, thanks to the polyphenol antioxidants within it, that give it a nice rosy appearance.

Pomegranate.jpg

  1. Walnuts

Nuts are another great all-rounder. When it comes to your skin, walnuts come top of the list as they contain Omega-3 fatty acids that improve skin elasticity and they have minerals, like copper, which boost collagen production.

  1. Yellow peppers

Next time you’re in the vegetable aisle, head straight for the brightest yellow peppers you can find. They are a good source of dietary fibre and antioxidants. The carotenoids which are found in yellow and orange vegetables also decrease the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

Best-foods-for-skin.jpg

  1. Sardines

They’re one of those Marmite foods that some of us love and some of us hate but if you’re a fan of sardines, you’re in luck. They have more omega-3s than the likes of salmon, which helps fortify skin cell membranes, protect against sun damage and may also help fight against certain types of skin cancer.

sardines.jpg

  1. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are packed with vitamin E which is your body’s main fat soluble antioxidant and great at fighting against acne, eczema and psoriasis.

  1. Kidney beans

Kidney beans have high levels of zinc which is great for your skin. Research has shown a link between low levels of zinc and blemishes, so packing those kidney beans into your chillies, stews or salads will help give you a radiant complexion.

  1. Soy

Whether it’s soy milk or vegetables like edamame, soy contains minerals and proteins that have shown to reduce hyperpigmentation.

Once you’ve added these items to your shopping list, don’t expect to make a yoghurt, sardine and red pepper salad and see results overnight. It takes around six weeks for new skin to emerge to the surface and see visible results.

What are your skin staples? Let us know on social by using the hashtag #MyIrishLife or by leaving a comment below.

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Irish Life is one of Ireland’s leading financial services companies with over 1 million customers. For over 75 years, we’ve been helping people in Ireland look after their life insurancepension and investment needs.