This article will discuss high blood pressure diet and lifestyle tips that are practical and sustainable. Discover how to read food labels easily and reduce your need for medication by following a few practical steps.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often called the ‘silent killer’. A condition like high blood pressure is sneaky. You don’t feel it, and it generally doesn’t cause any outward signs or symptoms. Yet it silently damages blood vessels, the heart, kidneys, and other organs. High blood pressure — also known as hypertension — isn’t a disease. It is a sign that something is wrong in the body. In some people with hypertension, the culprit is a narrowing of the arteries supplying the kidneys (renal artery stenosis), or an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or adrenal glands (aldosteronism). When these are treated, blood pressure drops back to normal. More often, though, doctors find no underlying cause for high blood pressure. This condition is called essential hypertension.
A significant amount of adults have blood pressure high enough to put them at risk for heart disease. Although you may need to take medication to control your blood pressure, diet also has a big impact and can help you reduce your need for medication.
Blood pressure is the force that the heart produces in the arteries as it pumps blood around the body and that of the arteries resisting the flow. Blood pressure when measured presents two readings: Systolic- that is the pressure when the heart contracts to pump blood to the body. Tester will take the reading when they hear the first sound the heart makes. Diastolic- pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.
Ideal blood pressure guidelines for men and women 18 years and older:
|Systolic pressure||Diastolic pressure|
|Normal||Less than 120*||Less than 80|
|Stage 1 hypertension||140–159||90–99|
|Stage 2 hypertension||160 or higher||100 or higher|
* Measurements are in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
Source: Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC7), May 2003.
High blood pressure cannot be cured but is managed with medication and a healthy lifestyle. Many people rely solely on medication to manage their high blood pressure, not knowing that diet and exercise play a major role in its management and not to mention all the other benefits of exercise.
Just by regularly doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise for about 5 days a week, studies have shown that you will be able to decrease your blood pressure by as much as 5-15 mmHg and after time you will also be able to decrease your medication dosage as well.
A number of factors may put you at risk of high blood pressure:
- Inactivity – being inactive puts you at an increased risk of being overweight, and your heart rate will be increased therefore making your heart work much harder than normal.
- Poor diet – having excessive amounts of salts and fats in your diet.
- Excess weight means that more blood is required by the body in-order to supply oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. So with the increased amounts of blood being circulated there will be an increase in the pressure on the artery walls.
- Excessive drinking of alcohol overtime is harmful.
- Smoking- the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your arteries which will promote their narrowing
- Stress- when stressed you automatically raise your blood pressure
What are the best foods that lower blood pressure?
An eating plan, based on scientific studies, is designed to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. It is called the DASH diet. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trials identified eating strategies that lowered blood pressure within two weeks of starting the plan. The effects of DASH were significantly greater in black participants than in whites, and in individuals with high blood pressure rather than those with normal pressure.
The DASH diet includes, on a daily basis, eight to ten servings of fruits and vegetables and two to three servings of fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products. It also emphasizes whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts, and is low in saturated fat, red meat, sodium, and sweets.
Nutritional tips and foods that lower blood pressure:
1. Decreasing your sodium intake
Sodium, found in salt is something we need in our diets, but most of us eat too much of it. Reducing salt in the diet can lower blood pressure. Try to have less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day — the same as 6 grams of salt a day, or about 1 teaspoon. That includes ALL sodium and salt — what’s in the product, and added in cooking and at the table.
A review in the Journal Of The American Medical Association concluded that salt reduction has little benefit for healthy individuals with normal blood pressure. Other, arguably more important factors in keeping blood pressure healthy are reducing weight and alcohol intake.
One estimate is that 10% to 25% of those with normal blood pressure are sensitive to the effects of salt, but what’s incontrovertible is that most people eat far more salt than they need, so reducing total salt and sodium intake is probably wise for everyone. This is especially so if there is a history of high blood pressure in your family.
Many of us live on the run and therefore also eat on the run. Eating on the run (processed foods, take away meals, fast food, pre-prepared meals, etc.) tend to easily take in more than the daily recommendation of about 2300mg sodium per day.
As an example:
A popular take out of 3 pieces of fried chicken and chips provides 2300mg sodium (total daily allowance!) in just one meal.
Typically high Sodium Foods include:
- Bakery items – breads, biscuits and pastries
- Canned foods
- Convenience foods – frozen dinners, pizza, cereals and packaged mixes
- Deli items – bacon, luncheon meats, corned beef, smoked meats or fish, sardines, anchovies and mayonnaise-based salads such as coleslaw
- Snack foods – crackers, crisps, chips and dips
- Condiments – stock, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressings, pickles, olives and salsa
- Sauces – gravy, barbecue, pasta, teriyaki and soy sauces
When reading food labels use these as a guideline to keep sodium intake within healthy recommendations:
Total sodium (mg) per meal: 600mg
Total sodium (mg) per snack: 400mg
If you cut back on salt, food may taste bland at first, but your tastes will gradually adjust. Here are some hints on cutting back:
• Taste food before you add salt.
• Flavor foods with fresh and dried herbs, spices, and salt-free products.
• Banish the saltshaker from the table.
• Examine nutrition labels to find out how much sodium foods contain.
• Look for low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no-salt added products.
• Cut back on high-sodium broths and soups as well as frozen dinners and packaged foods.
2. Increasing potassium and magnesium
Unlike salt, potassium helps lower your blood pressure. And, chances are, you need to boost your potassium supply. Potassium is a mineral found in abundance in fruits and vegetables. Although bananas are famous for potassium, other foods are equally good or even better sources, including tomatoes, oranges, baked potatoes with skin, sweet potatoes, spinach, and certain beans.
Getting plenty of potassium also helps to flush excess sodium from the body, and research suggests
that changing the balance between these two minerals can help the heart and the arteries. The best way to get more potassium and less sodium is to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, fish, homemade foods, and low-salt versions of prepared foods.
Also, unless your doctor or dietician recommends supplements, stick to food sources, which can give you potassium as well as other healthy nutrients.
Aim to always have at least one serving (a fistful) of fresh fruit and/or vegetables at each meal. Then also snack on fresh fruit or vegetables. Your total daily intake of fresh fruit and veggies should be 8 – 10 servings (a minimum of 5 per day).
One way to tell if you are eating healthy is to look at your plate: how colourful is your food? Fruits and vegetables deep, vibrant colours, like blueberries, tomatoes, and broccoli, contain phytonutrients, powerful plant compounds that are important to good health. Hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of different phytonutrients exist, including vitamins and minerals, and they protect the body from disease. No single fruit or vegetable can provide every beneficial chemical, so eating a variety of colourful foods is key.
3. Omega 3 fatty acids – eat more fish!
Omega-3 fish oils are a must for anyone with cardiovascular risk. Omega-3s also lower blood pressure. A daily intake of 1,500 mg of EPA and DHA is suggested. In this case it’s the EPA that seems most important.
Fish oils contain both EPA and DHA. A serving of oily fish, such as a piece of wild salmon, can provide around 3,000 mg of omega-3 fats. Of this, perhaps a quarter (800 mg) is EPA. You should aim for a minimum of 400 mg EPA per day. That’s either two high-potency omega-3 fish oil capsules a day (3000mg total), or half a serving of an omega-3 rich fish such as sardines, herring, or mackerel. Having three servings of fish a week and an omega-3 fish oil supplement providing around 200 mg of EPA a day is a good way to start.
Flax seed oil is also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids but take note: You have to eat a balanced diet with enough fruits and vegetables and take a multivitamin supplement to ensure that your body metabolises the oil. Dose: 3 tablespoons of flax seed oil per day. Use in drinks, yoghurt and porridges.
4. Fluid intake
If your blood level goes down, so does your blood pressure. By making your kidneys work harder, certain medications lower blood pressure. But you also lose valuable minerals such as magnesium and potassium. You would do better by drinking more water. When there’s a lack of water, your body does everything it can to reserve what water it has. That means the sodium level inside your body goes up, because sodium can hold water inside cells. Therefore, your blood pressure goes up. Drinking about 2 liters (8 glasses) of water a day can ensure proper kidney functioning and assist with blood pressure control. Be careful of drinks that may contain stimulants such as caffeine or ginseng as this will increase your blood pressure.
There is actually good news about high blood pressure: there is a lot a person can to do help keep it in check, and even prevent it from occurring in the first place. Follow the tips above for a high blood pressure diet, get moving, manage your stress and check your blood pressure on a regular basis.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this document is not intended to replace the attention or advice of a physician or other health care professional. Anyone who wishes to embark on any dietary, drug, exercise, or other lifestyle change that is intended to prevent or treat a specific disease should first consult a qualified health care professional