Your clients are perfectly healthy if they have blood pressure readings of 120 over 80, right? Not necessarily. These readings now fall into the prehypertensive category, according to new guidelines by The Joint National Committee (JNC) on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), May 21.

Why were these new guidelines necessary and what do they mean for your clients? The JNC last issued blood pressure guidelines in 1997. Since then, new evidence indicates that those classifications weren’t strict enough. Hypertension rates have continued to climb, along with serious health problems associated with high blood pressure.

People with these readings may be at risk to develop high blood pressure, still classified at 140 over 90 or more. The new guidelines create a new category—prehypertensive—for people with a systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 millimeters (mm) of mercury (Hg) or a diastolic blood pressure of 80 to 89 mm Hg. The new guidelines also eliminate the previous system of delineating hypertension into three risk groups.

What can your clients do? Get their blood pressure checked. To prevent or treat high blood pressure, they may have luck following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. A research report in the same issue of JAMA finds that the plan has effects similar to single drug therapy in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering blood pressure.

The DASH eating plan calls for 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy foods, such as milk, cheese or yogurt, and 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The plan is high in calcium, potassium and magnesium, all of which are associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure and stroke.