High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a serious health problem. Your nutritional choices can make it easier to keep it under control.
Here’s some news that you should take to heart: Half of all Americans have high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension. A third of them aren’t even aware that they have it, which is why this health condition is often referred to as the “silent killer.”
When your numbers run high, it puts you at increased risk for stroke and heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among older Americans.
Blood pressure is considered high if your readings are consistently higher than 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The larger number is known as systolic pressure, and it measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The lower number is called diastolic blood pressure, and it measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
Regular bouts of exercise, avoiding smoking, managing stress and going easy on alcohol are good places to start to keep blood pressure numbers from spiking. But there is also mounting evidence — beyond limiting salt — that diet can also play a big role in keeping blood pressure numbers from boiling over.
A 2021 study in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health linked a plant-based diet to lower blood pressure. Refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat make it go up. To shave some points off your own numbers, try adding these eight foods to your weekly meal plans.
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Kicking off your day with a bowl of whole-grain oats is a wise choice. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that eating oats regularly for eight weeks or more can help people with high blood pressure lower their numbers, particularly systolic blood pressure.
Oats contain high amounts of a type of fiber known as beta-glucan which may improve blood pressure control. The next time you head to the grocery store, choose steel-cut oats or rolled oats instead of those instant oat packets that usually have a lot of added sugar.
Recommended reading: 8 Easy Ways to Make Oatmeal Taste Amazing (Seriously)
Not a vegetable or a bean, these pulses are a top-notch source of potassium. Research shows that higher intakes of this mineral can blunt the effects of sodium on blood pressure by helping remove excess sodium in the body through urine. The potassium effect appears to be particularly strong in people with high-sodium diets with elevated numbers.
Lentils are also a hearty source of low-fat plant protein. You can use them in soups, stews and chili, or you can toss them into a salad. They should not be eaten raw, but you can easily cook them by boiling them in water on your stove.
Recommended reading: The Magical Health Benefits of Pulses
The summer months shouldn’t be the only time to enjoy this juicy red fruit. A new study of more than 7,000 older adults found that those who ate the most tomatoes or tomato products each day lowered their risk of developing hypertension by more than a third.
Why the blood pressure lowering benefit? Tomatoes contain the chemical compound lycopene, which may help keep blood vessel walls more flexible. It also has potassium that helps manage the effects of sodium in the body.
If raw tomatoes aren’t your thing, try a bowl of tomato soup. Past research has shown that regular consumption of gazpacho, a tomato-heavy cold soup, can help lower blood pressure numbers.
Recommended FREE SilverSneakers On-Demand Class: Exercises to Lower Blood Pressure for Seniors
Making a habit of eating this cultured dairy staple every day can help older adults lower their blood pressure numbers. Researchers from Tufts University in Boston found that over the course of 14 years, people who ate yogurt for at least 2% of their daily calories were 31% more likely to maintain healthier blood pressure numbers year after year.
Yogurt’s nutritional mix of probiotics, protein, calcium, potassium and magnesium may be its blood pressure superpower. Whenever possible, choose unflavored yogurt to reduce your intake of added sweeteners. Add fruit or savory mix-ins to suit your flavor cravings. Greek or Skyr types of yogurt will also give you an additional protein boost.
Recommended reading: 9 Fermented Foods to Feed a Healthy Gut
5. Leafy greens
Make your salads and soups work harder for your heart. A study in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that adults who ate the most nitrate-rich vegetables, which include leafy greens like arugula, spinach and watercress, had lower systolic blood pressure and as much as a 26% lower risk for heart disease.
Nitrates help dilate blood vessels, which helps blood flow more smoothly. Aim for a serving size of 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked greens to give you a good dose of them.
Recommended reading: 11 Leafy Greens You Should Be Eating, According to Dietitians
Blueberries, blackberries and other sweet-tart berries contain a lot of flavonoids. Why does that matter? Flavonoids are plant compounds that have some protective effects on the cardiovascular system. One study found that adults with the highest intake of flavonoid-rich foods had better blood pressure numbers.
You probably don’t need a lot of guidance on how to enjoy these sweet, juicy treats, but you can toss berries on cereal, yogurt, and salads — or enjoy them as a healthy afternoon snack.
The news about peanuts isn’t all about food allergies. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that all participants experienced a significant decline in their diastolic blood pressure levels after just 12 weeks. For those who had high blood pressure, the changes were greatest over the first two weeks of the study and stayed that way for the rest of them.
The study authors believe this could be because of the amino acid arginine that’s found in peanuts. Arginine promotes the production of nitric oxide, which helps open blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
It’s not clear if peanut butter has the same effect. Add these affordable nuts to your soups, stews, salads and stir-fries. And if you choose to snack on them, make sure to keep it to a small handful to avoid eating too many calories.
8. Herbs and spices
Most doctors recommend their patients cut back on sodium consumption to help control blood pressure. But avoiding your saltshaker doesn’t mean your meals need to taste bland. Sprinkling herbs and spices into recipes boosts the flavor profile of pretty much any dish you want to prepare, and there’s almost no way you can use them that will ruin the meal you’re making.
If you’re new to the seasonings game, mixtures such as Herbs de Provence, Middle Eastern za’atar, fiery Ethiopian berbere and Indian-inspired garam masala can punch up the flavor of everything from roasted vegetables and soups to pasta dishes and salad dressings. Plus, it gives your meals a little international flair.
What a Day of Lower Blood Pressure Eating Looks Like
Wondering what a blood pressure-lowering diet may look like? We’ve made it easy for you with a sample menu that not only will help you avoid or manage hypertension, it will give you the nutrients you need for better health overall.
Oatmeal seasoned with cinnamon and topped with berries and peanuts
Lentil arugula tomato salad topped with fresh basil
Greek yogurt topped with berries
Sheet-pan salmon and sweet potatoes topped with fresh cilantro
Spinach beet salad
See our sources:
Prevalence of high blood pressure: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Leading causes of death: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Systolic and diastolic blood pressure: CDC
Diet and blood pressure: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Plant-based diet and blood pressure: BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health
Oats: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Lentils: European Heart Journal
Tomatoes: European Journal of Preventive Cardiology
Gazpacho: Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases
Leafy greens: European Journal of Epidemiology
Peanuts: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
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