The diet dos and don’ts for high blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, presents a significant risk for heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. Over one billion people in the world are affected by high blood pressure, and medicine is typically used to keep levels under control. However, simple lifestyle changes can be made in order to reduce blood pressure naturally and improve your heart health. This article specifically looks into the dietary changes that can be made to help lower your blood pressure.

The best foods to lower your blood pressure

As a general guideline, foods that contain potassium are recommended to reduce blood pressure as potassium counterbalances the effects of sodium. Foods that contain nitrates and magnesium can also help reduce blood pressure. More specifically, the following foods have been found to be particularly efficient in reducing high blood pressure:

  • Avocados, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms are high in potassium.
  • Seeds such as pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are high in both potassium and magnesium.
  • Beets, spinach, cabbage, fennel, kale, swiss chard and lettuce are high in nitrates.
  • Citrus fruit such as grapefruit, lemons and oranges. These may however interfere with certain treatments for high blood pressure, therefore it is recommended to check with your GP before incorporating these into your diet if you are currently being treated.
  • Carrots and celery can help reduce inflammation and relax the blood vessels.
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and herring can help lower blood pressure by decreasing inflammation and lowering the levels of certain compounds restricting blood vessels.
  • Berries including blueberries, raspberries and strawberries can also decrease inflammation and blood vessel constriction.
  • Tomatoes are rich in potassium and also contain lycopene, which is a carotenoid pigment that helps support heart health.
  • Nuts such as pistachios and almonds can lower blood pressure by reducing the tightness of blood vessels.
  • Beans and lentils are high in potassium, magnesium and fibre, which can all help reduce blood pressure.

Foods to avoid if you have high blood pressure

There are a number of foods you should avoid if you have high blood pressure, mainly due to their content of sodium, unhealthy fats and sugar as these can all affect the heart and blood vessels. It is recommended that you read the food labels and aim to reduce your intake of:

  • Sodium (salt) is a major contributor when it comes to high blood pressure and heart disease as it affects the balance of fluids in the blood. High amounts of salt are typically found in highly processed, pre-packaged foods such as deli meats, pizza, sandwiches, pickles, canned soup and canned tomato products.
  • Saturated and trans fats affect blood pressure and increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal produce – particularly milk, cream, red meat, chicken skin and butter. Processed foods that are pre-prepared and pre-packaged generally contain a high amount of trans fats.
  • Sugar has a direct effect on blood pressure, as well as an indirect effect by increasing the risk of being overweight or obese.
  • Caffeine (contained in products such as coffee, tea and energy drinks) can cause short-term spikes in blood pressure.
  • Alcohol can cause a significant increase in blood pressure and is linked with a higher risk of stroke and heart failure.

You can follow the above guidelines to help improve your blood pressure naturally by following a heart-healthy diet. However, it is also recommended that you make other healthy lifestyle changes in order to support your dietary efforts to reduce your blood pressure. These include maintaining a healthy weight, staying active and quitting smoking if you are a smoker. These can all help reduce your blood pressure as well as supporting your general health.