Food to Fight High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is a measure of how much the blood inside your veins and arteries is pushing on the sides of the blood vessels. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) occurs when the force of the blood pushing against the blood vessels is too high. This can put extra strain on the veins and arteries, as well as the walls of the heart itself. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to health problems such as stroke, heart attack, dementia, kidney problems and eye disease.
If your doctor tells you that you have high blood pressure, then you may be given medication to help bring your blood pressure down. You can support your medical treatment with your diet.
Hypertension is often called the ‘silent killer’ because many sufferers of hypertension have no symptoms at all. So even if you aren’t aware of problems with your blood pressure, following the below dietary recommendations could help you to avoid health problems in the future.
Food to avoid if you have high blood pressure
SALT – eating salt in the diet raises your internal sodium levels and causes your body to retain water in the kidneys. This water retention raises your blood pressure and puts a strain on many organs of your body. Eating too much salt also raises the amount of sodium in the bloodstream, further raising blood pressure and placing additional strain on the blood vessels. Processed foods can contain large amounts of salt. Eating fresh, unprocessed foods and cooking from scratch will help to keep salt intake to a minimum.
ALCOHOL – drinking alcohol raises blood pressure over time. It is important not to exceed the official guidelines for alcohol (14 units for men and women). If you have raised blood pressure, then you should consider going alcohol free until you have your blood pressure back under control.
REFINED SUGAR – refined sugars add large numbers of empty calories to the diet. These unnecessary calories contribute directly to weight gain. Obesity is closely correlated with high blood pressure. This is partly due to the additional pressure placed on the heart and blood vessels. Levels of insulin in overweight individuals have been shown to be much higher than in people of a healthy weight1. This high level of insulin thickens the blood vessel walls and contributes further to high blood pressure.
Food to eat if you have high blood pressure
It is important to eat a diet high in fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Scientific studies have also shown that some foods could contain compounds that directly lower blood pressure. Supplements should not be taken unless specifically recommended by your doctor, some artificial supplements have been shown to be harmful to health. However, you can safely include naturally occurring compounds in your diet.
POTASSIUM, MAGNESIUM AND FIBRE RICH FOODS – Potassium, magnesium and fibre all help the body to control sodium levels. Intake of these nutrients has shown good correlation with lowering blood pressure levels. The well-known DASH diet, emphasises eating fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts, ensuring that the diet includes plenty of potassium, magnesium and fibre. This approach has been shown to help reduce blood pressure2,3. Particularly good sources of these nutrients include: bananas, asparagus, spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, nuts, pulses and oats.
NITRATE RICH FOODS – Researchers have found that ingesting dietary nitrate can induce sustained lowering of blood pressure in patients with hypertension4,5. In this study, people with high blood pressure were given beetroot juice, a great source of natural nitrates. A control group were given nitrate-free beetroot juice. The study showed that the group given nitrate-containing beetroot juice showed a sustained lowering of blood pressure. You can find dietary nitrates in beetroot or dark leafy greens such as kale or cabbage. Nitrates in food are water soluble, so although you can roast or steam them, you shouldn’t boil the vegetables. Raw beetroot juice would also be a perfect way to include natural dietary nitrates in the diet.
FLAVONOID RICH FOODS – Flavonoids are polyphenolic compounds that occur naturally in plants such as fruits, vegetables, grains and teas. Flavonoids are often talked about in relation to their anticancer properties, however scientists have found that dietary flavonoids also influence lowering of blood pressure. A scientific study found that intake of anthocyanins (and flavan-3-ols and flavones), were associated with a 12% reduced risk of hypertension6. This is thought to be due to their vasodilatory properties. Anthocyanins are present in blueberries, cranberries, strawberries and oranges. These fruits should be consumed fresh as the compound is likely to be damaged during food processing.
Diet and high blood pressure summary
If you have high blood pressure, or at risk of developing high blood pressure, you should eat a diet low in salt and alcohol. You should include plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You should also increase intake of foods demonstrated to have beneficial compounds such as beetroot, dark leafy greens and fresh berries.
Medical disclaimer – the studies in this article are provided for information only and the article is not intended to be used as medical advice. If you have any symptoms of high blood pressure, or any other medical complaints then you must discuss these with your doctor. The foods recommended in this article are not a replacement for medical advice or for any treatment recommended by your doctor. Always discuss dietary changes with a medical professional.