High Blood Pressure Awareness Month was observed last month, a time when good-intentioned people undertook new diet regimens, hoping to improve their health and possibly prolong their lives. The event, sponsored annually by the American Heart Assn., is a public-education campaign designed to increase public awareness of the disease through handouts and media blitzes.
There are, however, some people for whom watching calorie intake, cutting back on fat, salt and alcohol and getting more exercise is a daily ritual, essentially because their lives depend upon it.
When Lionel Williams suffered a slight stroke and doctors diagnosed him hypertensive, he still wasn't convinced of the seriousness of his illness, so he, like many other hypertensive patients, didn't watch his diet and didn't take his medicine.
"I thought I could do without it. I wanted to continue working. . . .I pushed myself, not knowing that the pressure was there, and before I knew it it hit me again," Williams said.
But that was 13 years ago. Today, he takes his medicine, gets some exercise and follows the "Three Bs": broiling, boiling and baking. He has changed his life style and abandoned his Kansas City style of cooking--he's not frying and using as much salt or cured pork products. Cooking today for Williams is lighter, and his doctor is delighted with the results.
Williams, 64, is one of the members of the Betty Hill Senior Citizens Center in Los Angeles, where members gather for a variety of activities, including weekly blood pressure monitoring by health care professionals and trained center volunteers. The seniors also spend time learning more about the silent killer--how to take their own and anyone else's blood pressure readings and how to change permanently their life styles to control the disease.
Accelerated blood pressure is a disease associated with heredity, obesity, alcohol intake, lack of exercise and nutrition. There is no cure, although it is treated with medication. There are no symptoms, and it appears in young and old alike. Historically, blacks have suffered a disproportionately higher rate of occurrence of the disease. A blood pressure of 140/90 or above is the criterion for defining hypertension.
A 1983 survey conducted by the California Department of Health indicated that 29% of the black adults surveyed were hypertensives, whereas the prevalence of the disease for white adults was 26%. In the 18-to 49-year age group, 12.3% of the adults surveyed, black and white, had hypertension. In the 50-plus age group, 48% had hypertension. What's worse is that 41% of those with hypertension hadn't been diagnosed.
The data reflected in this study suggests that although public knowledge of the facts about high blood pressure has increased since a previous poll in 1979, ". . . a reduction in the number of hypertensives who have their blood pressure under control. . ." has not occurred.
There are, however, many black people like Williams who are on the road to recovery. They are preparing food in the home and selecting those items on restaurant menus with a watchful eye on fat and sodium. They've begun modernizing the hand-me-down recipes their ancestors created. Recipes for soul food are being scaled down, lightened and brightened up to better serve the needs of a health-conscious audience.
Inherent soul foods like greens and other vegetables, which traditionally have been heavily seasoned with cured pork, are out among this new trendy breed of cooks. Fresh steamed vegetables and vegetable combinations are in.
Of course, there are still some cooks who offer down-home versions of Southern specialties--black-eyed peas with ham hocks or fatback and chitterlings. But with increasing concern for health, diet and weight, many black cooks have opted to abandon the rib-sticking style created by their ancestors and are incorporating more artistic and healthful techniques to their methodology.
Some alternatives: Instead of country fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, try this Country French Chicken Potato Salad. This combination of red-skinned potatoes, cooked chicken, red onion, green pepper and sliced mushrooms in a tasty creamy garlic dressing is hearty enough to stand on its own as a meal-in-one when served on a bed of salad greens with crusty bread, but light enough to qualify as a skinny salad.
Another fatty old favorite, meat loaf, is slimmed down when ground turkey is substituted for ground beef in Cajun Meat Loaf. Cajun seasonings, including cumin, red pepper flakes, green pepper and garlic, contribute to the Southern flavor.