Health experts have been speaking about the importance of keeping normal and healthy blood pressure levels for decades now and to some, it’s still not clear why. Allow us to explain. High blood pressure or hypertension is when the force of the blood flowing through the blood vessels is consistently too high.
When this happens, extra strain is placed on organs like the heart, brain, kidneys and even the eyes. This silent killer can wreak havoc on the body for years before symptoms develop, which means that the worst part is people will have it and have no idea. Studies have shown that nearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure.
If you’re worried, fear not. One of the easiest ways to reduce and control your blood pressure is through your diet, and that’s exactly why we’re here today. We’re going to tell you the foods you should eat more of and how they’ll help your blood pressure, as well as the foods you should stay away from, along with the terrible things they do to make your pressure climb. If that’s something you’re interested in learning about, keep reading.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are great because they contain potassium. Potassium, if you didn’t know, has the ability to help the kidneys get rid of sodium. Here’s a quick lesson about sodium (one of the elements that make up salt): when we eat too much salt, the body holds onto water to try to dilute it. The extra water in our blood means the heart has to work harder because it’s pushing more liquid through the blood vessels. The harder the heart works, the more force is exerted on our blood vessels. Over time, this leads to high blood pressure. That’s why it’s important to find foods that help combat sodium- foods like arugula and lettuce.
Berries, blueberries in particular, are filled with natural (the important word here) antioxidants and flavonoids (they help the body function more efficiently and protect against toxins at the same time). Both of these compounds have been proven to reduce high blood pressure. The best part is that they’re easy to incorporate into one’s diet. They can be used in a morning smoothie, eaten as a snack in the mid-morning, added to a salad for lunch or thrown into some yogurt as a dessert.
Oatmeal is perfect for breakfast for some many reasons, including that it’s in high fiber, low in fat, low in sodium and helps reduce hypertension. It’s good for fueling the body at the start of the day and also helps with weight loss. And no one says it has to be boring. There are many ways to spice up your oatmeal including by cooking them with our aforementioned friends, the berries, by sprinkling some granola in, by topping it with nuts and seeds and so much more.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that the body needs but can’t make from scratch. And the way we get them is in our food. They help reduce high blood pressure as effectively as lifestyle changes like exercising, limiting alcohol and cutting back on salt. They’re found in high amounts in fish like salmon, mackerel and herring and also oysters and caviar- so you can definitely get your sushi night on while loading up on omega-3s. Non-seafood omega-3-rich foods include walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and soybeans.
Let us just start off by apologizing to all the vampires who won’t be able to eat any garlic. Garlic works to reduce high blood pressure by increasing the amount of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide widens our arteries (vessels that provide passage for high pressure blood leaving the heart), thus bringing it down. The best thing about this herb is the flavor it adds to other foods. Try it with some of the salmon we mentioned earlier or as a snack in a garlic herb nut mix.
Here’s one treat we know you’ll appreciate: chocolate. But not just any kind of chocolate- dark chocolate. In small doses this cocoa treat has been found to lower the risk of heart disease. What’s also great is that the cocoa solids used to make it contain less sugar than both white and milk chocolates. You can eat it normally, add some yogurt to it, or even melt it down and dip some strawberries in it.
Pistachios are amazing for reducing blood pressure because it reduces peripheral vascular resistance. What that means is that is it reduces the tightening of blood vessels, leaving more room for blood to flow, which can help improve your heart rate. What you can do is to eat them as a snack in a bowl, combine them with cranberries to make some energy balls or eat them with apples and some low-fat cream cheese. Just keep in mind that some pistachios contain more fat than other nuts, so weight gain is possible if you eat too many of these.
Olive oil is another one of those healthy fats that we were talking about earlier. It helps fight inflammation, which is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure. And you can reach your daily goal of healthy fats with just one portion of this Greek favorite. Now it might seem difficult to add oil into your diet, but we’ve got your back. You can drizzle them over your roasted vegetables, add it to salads, use it as a replacement for butter in your desserts or drizzle it on some bread.
Earlier we mentioned the potassium in green leafy vegetables, and with bananas, it’s no different. The potassium in this fruit will help filter out the sodium, making them great additions to your diet. And it’s pretty easy to do it too. Bananas can be eaten as is, cut up and added to oatmeal and other cereals or incorporated into pancakes or baked in a healthy banana bread. The possibilities are just endless with this fruit.
Over the years, pomegranate has been hailed as a superfood because of all of its health benefits. When it comes lowering your blood pressure, just one cup of pomegranate juice a day can cause positive changes in only four weeks. And of course there are different ways to add it to your diet- you can drink the juice (but be mindful of the sugar content), you can add it to your oatmeal, your smoothies or into a salad.
Cinnamon has been dubbed, by many, as the most delicious spice in the world. Beyond its flavor, studies suggest that it has the ability to cause short-term reductions in one’s systolic blood pressure (pressure in the arteries when the heart beats). In addition to its short-term effects on hypertension, it also lowers blood sugar levels, reduces certain risk factors for heart disease and has anti-inflammatory properties. But be careful with this spice, since too much of one thing is never a good idea. Ingesting too much cinnamon could have adverse effects on the liver. Experts recommend no more than one teaspoon a day.
Now here’s a fruit you can really sink your teeth into. Watermelon is amazing for so many reasons. The first is that it’s delicious! The second is that it has so much water (as its name suggests) that it’ll keep you hydrated. Third, watermelon has an amino acid called citrulline, which can help manage high blood pressure. Citrulline works to help our bodies produce nitric oxide (the same ingredient in garlic) and relaxes our blood vessels, reducing pressure. Studies have shown that those who drink watermelon juice have almost 50% less plaque in their arteries than those who don’t. Now it may be hard to make this a constant part of the diet because it’s seasonal, but just don’t pass up the opportunity when it does come around.
Lentils and other pulses are amazing sources of fiber and protein. This legume, along with chickpeas, work to decrease blood pressure by expanding the body’s blood vessels. Lentils also happen to have polyphenols- health promoters that can help reduce several heart disease risk factors. What’s great is that they’re easy to add into the diet (and they don’t take a very long time to cook). They can be put in soups or used as a replacement for red meat.
Kiwis are super helpful at reducing hypertension. Scientists confirm that eating three of these small, round fruits a day for eight weeks is better than eating an apple a day. They’re a good source of vitamin C which boosts the immune system, they aid digestion, they can help reduce blood clots and so much more. This fruit can be peeled and eaten in slices, it can be added to oatmeal, it can be made into a shake or put into a parfait.
Looking to replace your morning oatmeal? Try natural yogurt. It has been found to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease and help with weight management. According to the America Heart Association, older women who eat natural yogurt show a 20% reduction in the risk of getting hypertension. But how to know what’s natural and what’s not? It’s simple- natural yogurt doesn’t contain sweeteners or additives. So feel free to add fruits, nuts and even cinnamon to your morning meal- just stay away from the sugar.
It’s taken us what seems like ages to realize that the birds have gotten it right all along. While we aren’t telling you to completely overhaul your diet and consume only seeds, we are asking you to try to incorporate them into what you currently eat. Seeds like pumpkin, flax and sunflower all have a mineral called magnesium. Magnesium helps relax the blood vessels, which then lessens (and lowers) your blood pressure. But the key here is to eat them unsalted.
Beetroot is considered to be a wonder veggie by many scientists who believe that the juice can lower your blood pressure in a matter of hours. Beets have a high amount of potassium, which we all now works to combat sodium in the body. Science has also found that the benefits are greater in men than women. Drinking only a few glasses a week has been said to show a marked improvement in those with hypertension. Now it isn’t the tastiest thing in the world, but you can improve that by making the juice with other fruits such as apple.
Ever heard the saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Well, it just might. Apples contain a flavonol called quercetin. This flavonol has been associated with the reduced risk of stroke and heart disease and the reduction of blood pressure in hypertensive people. Clinical trials have been done and they suggest that quercetin might help treat cancer and other diseases, although more research has to be done. Quercetin is also found in other foods like berries, red onions and kale.
Even if you’re not lucky enough to own a hibiscus tree, you can still indulge in all the yumminess this hot (or cold) drink has to offer. Hibiscus is a good source of organic acids- acids that are known to regulate the body’s acidity. But here’s the more important part, the organic acids found in hibiscus are great for the cardiovascular system because it lowers blood pressure. All you need to do is drop a few flowers into some water and brew away. Because we’re not huge fans of sugar here, it’s best to drink it without sweetening, but if you must, don’t overdo it.
Sweet potatoes are one of the most delicious superfoods there is. And they’re great for your cardiovascular system. Want to know why? Because of the amount of potassium they contain. Just a slight increase in potassium can show improvements in your blood pressure (if it’s high). Sweet potatoes will also go to work to help manage diabetes, to help the body fight off infections, to help prevent inflammation and even fight and prevent cancer to some extent.
Foods You Should Avoid
It’s great that you now know what to eat, but we found that it’d be just as helpful if you knew what not to eat. And kicking off this list of things to stay away from is none other than the pot pie. Pot pies contain almost 1500 mg of sodium- which is about 800mg away from our daily suggested intake (2300mg), with some experts saying that it should be lower than that. And there’s also the 35 grams of fat that don’t help. Sure, the sodium levels may vary whether it’s chicken, beef or spinach, but it’s still way too high and not the healthiest of things to eat, even if it’s only eaten on special occasions.
Cheese is one of the most delicious foods ever created, a fact that we must admit, even if we need to stay away from it. And here’s why: sodium. You’ve heard a lot about this baddie from the very first point in this article, so you understand why it isn’t great for the body. Cheese has lots and lots of sodium. Cheddar, which has a low sodium count when compared to other cheeses, has 621 mg of sodium per 100 grams (a little less than half a cup). That means two metric cups of cheese will have more than your daily sodium requirement. Not worth it, right?
Candy contains a different kind of bad ingredient when to comes to high blood pressure: sugar. Fructose sugar (which is found in most generic candies) drives up uric acid in the body by inhibiting what’s called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that helps our blood vessels maintain their elasticity. If our blood vessels are no longer elastic, they can’t widen to handle increased amounts of pressure. And the sugar in candy affects much more than just your blood pressure. High sugar consumption affects our weight, the heart, the kidneys, it can lead to the development of diabetes and so much more.
The problem with soft drinks or sodas isn’t just their sugar content. It’s also the fact that these non-nutritional drinks are very addictive. It’s bad enough that they’re chock-full of high fructose corn syrup, other added sugars and food coloring, but they’re also going to leave you wanting more. One can of 12-ounce cola (without caffeine) contains nearly 39 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume 37.5 grams of sugar per day, while women should consume 25 grams. The one can of cola surpasses that. It’s best to just stay away from them altogether.
Here’s another type of drink you should stay away from. The difference between energy drinks and sodas is that the former has caffeine. So the sugar is there, the coloring is there, the addictive factor is there as well, but it also has caffeine. And if you didn’t know, caffeine causes a short but intense increase in blood pressure in order to raise your energy level. Consuming these only have short-term benefits, if you can even call them that. We suggest building your energy and stamina the old-fashioned way.
Some of us can’t live without sauces- they include creamy mayo, tangy ketchup, super spicy hot sauce and the delicious hint of salt in the salad dressing that makes eating greens bearable. But these tasty sauces hide ingredients that are horrible for your blood pressure. Hot sauce alone has 2643 mg of sodium per 100 grams. Allow us to put that into easier words for you to understand: it’s deadly! Beyond the sodium content, it can cause tummy aches and acid reflux.
We’re at the point where you’re probably thinking that we want to take away all that’s well and good in the universe from you. We’re not trying to- we promise. It just happens to be a fact of life that the majority of the world’s favorite eats and drinks happen to be unhealthy, and pizza just another one on the list. Pizza is bad for your blood pressure because the cheese is salty, the tomato puree is also salty and the bread is fatty. The good news is that by substituting out the unhealthy ingredients, you can still have your pizza and eat it too.
Red meat (pork, lamb, beef-basically meat from mammals) is okay to eat in small doses because they’re a really good source of protein. They also contain vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and other nutrients. But beyond that, try to stay away from them. Red meat has high levels of saturated fats- fats that can clog your arteries if you don’t pay attention to how much you consume. So if you do need to eat it, try to limit it to just once a week.
The term “processed meat” sounds really bad and it’s probably something you wouldn’t want to eat, just by the name alone. But processed meat contains some of the most delicious meat products in the world: bacon, hot dogs, smoked meats, salami and more. And part of the reason why they taste so good is because they have our good old friend, sodium. More than that, these foods also contain saturated fats and preservatives that make sure the products last a long time.
This one is particular may hurt college kids around the world who love turning to ramen for a quick meal. But here’s why they (and you) should stop eating these noodles right now. Instant ramen noodles can contain ridiculously high amounts of sodium- more than 1500 mg! Remember when we were saying that your daily sodium intake shouldn’t be more than 2300 mg? Eating just one of these means you’ve almost completely used up your daily limit. This quick go-to meal is a step in the wrong direction for your health.
Believe us when we say that we’re not doing this on purpose. We’re not trying to take some of the most indulgent luxuries on this planet away from you. It just happens to be that alcohol and high blood pressure go hand in hand. Here’s how. When we drink alcohol, our blood vessels tighten. When they tighten, there’s less room for the blood to pass through, which increases the pressure in our arteries. So drinking often and for prolonged periods of time should be an absolute no-no. Let’s not forget about the crazy high amounts of sugar (which can lead to weight gain and guess what… more high blood pressure) that many types of alcohol contain.
Now we briefly mentioned bacon in our processed meats portion, but we know that most of you probably ignored it… so here it is again. About 68% of the calories you get from bacon comes from fat. It has high levels of sodium, saturated fats, chemicals (nitrates or nitrites) that preserve it and enhance its color. Beyond the risk of very likely high blood pressure, high consumption of processed meats has been linked to cancer, heart disease and stroke.
It is a little-known fact that most pickles are actually cucumbers and that the word “pickle” actually refers to the process of pickling a food- or preserving it using fermentation. You see, healthy cucumbers are placed in a jar of either brine (highly concentrated saltwater) or vinegar (which contains acetic acid and other chemicals for flavoring). These “pickles” often sit in those solutions for months, sucking up the saltiness that makes them taste so good. But it’s also enough salt to cause some major damage inside your body. It’s much healthier to eat the pickles unpickled.
The threat that coffee poses is very similar to that of energy drinks; they contain high levels of caffeine that have damaging effects on one’s blood pressure. If your blood pressure is usually low, we have some good news, coffee won’t do you too much harm. If it’s usually normal, coffee will bring it up. If your blood pressure is already normally high, you’ll be in big trouble. So if after all this info you still can’t seem to stay away from coffee, drink a maximum of two cups in the morning (none after lunch) or always choose decaf.
Butter and Margarine
Butter and margarine are just so pretty and spreadable and so easy to add to a slice of toast that it seems like a gift from the heavens. But what they might actually do is send you to heaven. You see, these spreads have so much fat in them that they’re known for clogging arteries if too much is consumed. Clogged or partially blocked arteries forces the heart to pump faster to maintain blood supply to the places that need it. When this is prolonged, it increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
Soup? Bad? No, not all soups. Just canned soups. Some brands (we’re not going to mention their names) should just be enjoyed in paintings. They, along with others in the business, have large amounts of sodium- some tins are known to have 800 mg of sodium, which is already more than one-third of your daily intake. It’s far better (even if it’s more time consuming) to make your own soup from scratch. The healthier, fresher option is always the way to go.
Everyone who is anyone knows that popcorn is must for watching movies. Now more than ever, we seem to have more time to do just that, which means much more popcorn. This treat is loaded with salt, butter, sugar (and more unhealthy ingredients) in each and every handful- all of which are things we’ve thus far warned you against when it comes to keeping your blood pressure normal. If you want your popcorn to be healthy, cut back on the butter, change out the toppings for a better option like cinnamon, raisins or dark chocolate or just stick to some good ole carrot sticks.
Like so many other “bad foods” on this list, canned beans are full of preservatives and guess who…sodium- both of which are ingredients known to increase blood pressure. We would just ask you to stay away from these, but if you can’t, be sure to rinse them out thoroughly in water to try to remove some of the salt in them. Or you can just enjoy them fresh and savor the taste in a less salt-rich environment.
So we’ve come to the part of this article where we’re going to talk about saturated fats. Anything with “fat” in it can’t be all that good (besides the ones your body needs for energy) and saturated fats aren’t. Saturated fats raise your LDL or bad cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol increases risk for heart disease and stroke. So it’s much better for you, if you want to consume dairy, to replace whole milk with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.
Have you ever noticed that fried foods taste best when paired with something that’s either really sweet like sugar (hello pretzels) or something salty like, well, salt (French fries at your service). They taste so great because of their high sodium content, not to mention all the saturated fats just waiting to be gobbled up. It’s much better to look for alternative ways of cooking your food like grilling, baking and even sauteing- all of these are preferable to deep frying.