Hypertension affects nearly half of all Black women, according to new research released by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Here, renowned nutritionist Rovenia Brock, Ph.D., the “Just 10 Challenge” nutrition coach for the “Dr. Oz” show, answers our trickiest questions about beating high blood pressure. ESSENCE: Lowering your sodium intake to prevent or manage high blood pressure sounds easy, but many of us are unsuccessful when it comes to doing so. Why? ROVENIA BROCK: Because so many of us live unconsciously. We’re blindly eating — not thinking about portion sizes, sodium content or food choices. We don’t take food as seriously as we should. We treat it as a social event, it’s therapy, it’s everything but what it’s meant to be: sustenance. ESSENCE: The average American consumes 3,436mg of sodium every day — more than twice the suggested limit. If we want to eat with a conscience when it comes to hypertension, what should our first step be? BROCK: Ease off the amount of salt you’re consuming right now. If you’re shaking salt on your salad, stop and switch to balsamic vinegar. If you’re dunking your sushi in soy sauce, try letting it lightly skim the dipping tray. Try your corn on the cob with a small pat of reduced fat margarine and a shake of pepper. Salt is a flavor enhancer — not a spice. If you’re adding it to something like salad, you don’t even know the real flavor of the food you’re eating. ESSENCE: What are some smart substitutions to make when we’re seasoning and preparing foods we like to put salt on? BROCK: I like to season my beef tenderloin, for example, with rosemary, thyme, basil, tarragon and garlic. You’re talking about flavor abound! You can marinate meats in tomato juice, orange juice or even lemon juice. There are no rules except what tastes good to you. ESSENCE: Besides avoiding sodium, what can we eat to help lower blood pressure? BROCK: Follow the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). It has you eating colorful fruits and vegetables, beans as a protein source, fish two to three times a week and low-fat dairy. If you eat a diet rich in those food categories, it’s proven that you’ll lower your blood pressure. ESSENCE: Anything else you’d advise readers to do? BROCK: You have to keep your weight down. The physical activity of walking five to six days a week can lower your blood pressure by ten points. ESSENCE: A lot of women out there want to get off their medication. With one-third of people never even filling the prescription their doctor gives them, what would you advise? BROCK: Never stop taking your blood pressure medication without first consulting your doctor. You can get off your medication, but it happens gradually — not overnight. Check out the January 2011 issue of ESSENCE for more advice from Dr. Ro, including an unveiling of some surprising high-sodium foods.