Has anyone ever told you that if you eat that burger and fries you're going to have a heart attack? This likely isn't true and one single meal won't make or break your heart health. However, eating more nutritious foods that support your health can have a significant positive impact. Blood pressure is a health parameter that is significantly influenced by your food choices.
Changing up your diet can be just as effective as taking medications when it comes to treating your high blood pressure. Blood pressure is influenced by many variables including dietary pattern, lifestyle, weight, and other factors.
Arguably one of the best things you can do for your blood pressure is to minimize intake of salt and unhealthy fats. But once you’ve excluded these, what are you left with to eat?
Here are some of the best types of foods for improved blood pressure:
- Beets & Other Nitrate Rich Foods
- Bananas & Other Potassium Rich Foods
- Salmon & Other Omega 3 Rich Foods
- Oats & Other Whole Grain Foods
- Beans & Other Fiber Rich Foods
- Almonds & Other Magnesium Rich Foods
- Yogurt & Other Calcium Rich Foods
What is High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, is when the blood that is flowing throughout your body is consistently flowing with too much force. Over time, this can cause damage to your vessels and result in serious health complications.
It's common to have your blood pressure checked at primary care appointments but you can also do this on your own by utilizing the machines available at your local pharmacy. If you are diagnosed with hyptertension your physician may recommend having your own device to check your blood pressure at home and track your blood pressure on a regular basis.
If you have concerns regarding your blood pressure it is always best to speak with your healthcare provider for a clinical evaluation. From there your provider can help you develop a plan that suits your individual needs.
There are different levels of high blood pressure severity which you can see broken down below:
What Causes High Hyptertension?
For many people, it is not entirely clear what causes their hypertension. Primary (essential) hypertension for example, often develops over several years without any symptoms, whereas secondary hypertension is caused by another health condition and has a quicker onset.
There are many risk factors for hypertension including age, race, family history, weight, activity level, tobacco use, and stress levels. An eating pattern that is high in sodium, low in potassium, or one that includes too much alcohol may also increase your risk for high blood pressure.
Secondary hypertension is caused by another underlying condition and the onset usually presents more quickly. Common causes of secondary hypertension include certain medications like birth control pills, cold medicine, and pain relievers. Other causes are kidney disease, adrenal gland tumors, sleep apnea, and congenital defects of blood vessels. Illegal drugs like amphetamines and cocaine cause also cause high blood pressure. Temporary health changes such as pregnancy can also cause secondary hypertension.
It can be difficult to determine your exact cause of hypertension because there are so many different factors that can contribute. Identifying your personal risk factors with your healthcare team and addressing them from there can be a great place to start.
High Blood Pressure Myth Buster
Close to fifty percent of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure. Chances are you know someone with hypertension. Along with that often comes ideas from anecdotal evidence and spreads common misconceptions.
You may have heard that if high blood pressure runs in your family, it's inevitable that you will develop it at some point in your life as well. While there is a higher risk for those individuals with a family history of hypertension, your diet and lifestyle choices can drastically reduce your likelihood of developing it.
Another common misconception is that if you don't symptoms such as feeling flushed, nervous, or sweating you don't have high blood pressure. This is also false because many people have no symptoms at all.
An important myth to bust is that if you were put on blood pressure medicine and your numbers start to go down that you can stop taking your medication. This can be very dangerous. You should always consult with your doctor before making any modifications to your blood pressure medication.
As a blanket recommendation, when in doubt check with your doctor! If you have risks factors for high blood pressure and don't see a doctor on a regular basis, utilize free resources like the blood pressure station at your local pharmacy or visit a free clinic for a routine health screening.
What Are the Risks of High Blood Pressure?
One of the biggest concerns regarding high blood pressure is that you may have hypertension and not even know it, most people experience no symptoms at all.
The American Heart Association (AHA) refers to high blood pressure as the "silent killer", due to the lack of warning before a cardiac event or serious damage is done.
The damage caused by high blood pressure over time can lead to stroke, vision loss, heart failure, heart attack, kidney disease, sexual dysfunction, and a variety of heart and other health complications.
While medication is necessary at times and can play an important role in blood pressure regulation, changing your lifestyle and eating habits can reduce your need for medication and improve your overall health.
Remember that any changes to your medication regimen should always be done under supervision and in coordination with your healthcare provider.
What Are the Best Foods for High Blood Pressure?
Food has such a major impact on blood pressure that an entire diet was created for people with or at risk for hypertension to follow called the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension).
The DASH diet generally includes healthy eating principles with a focus on many of the choices discussed here, especially fruits, vegetables, fish, and low-fat dairy. It also minimizes choices that increase blood pressure such as salt and saturated fats.
The DASH diet is widely recommended by healthcare authorities including the AHA and mayo clinic (14).
Eating the right amount in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is also important for blood pressure control and overall health.
Bottom Line: A healthy diet and regular exercise can often lead to effective blood pressure control without the need to be dependent on medications.
Beets & Other Nitrate Rich Foods
Beets contain high levels of a chemical compound called nitrates (NO3) that clinical trials suggest might be responsible for a beneficial effect on blood pressure. After you eat nitrates they are converted into nitric oxide by the body. Nitric oxide opens up your blood vessels - and thus relieves some of the pressure they're experiencing.
Not to mention vegetables like beets are also packed with micronutrients, phytochemicals, and other antioxidant goodness that have benefits beyond blood pressure support.
How many beets should you be consuming? There’s really not enough evidence to know. However, studies that looked at their effect on blood pressure used anywhere between about 1/3rd to 2 cups each day of beetroot juice (70 mL to 500 mL) (1).
10 Choices Naturally Rich in Nitrates
- Leafy Greens
- Bok Choy
Bananas & Other Potassium Rich Foods
Diets rich in potassium have been shown to help lower blood pressure, potentially in part by helping battle the bad effects of sodium. Some studies suggest that systolic blood pressure is most influenced by getting enough potassium in your diet.
Bananas are a classic example, but many other options are potassium-rich.
20 Potassium Packed Items
- Kidney Beans
The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 4,700mg daily of potassium (2, 3).
It is possible to get too much potassium if it's taken in the form of a supplement, especially in people with chronic kidney disease. So while food sources are usually considered safe, it’s always important to talk to your doctor for specific medical advice before taking any potassium supplements.
Salmon & Other Omega 3 Rich Foods
The omega 3 fatty acids that are packed into salmon offer a slew of health benefits, including helping to lower blood pressure as well as decreasing the risk of serious heart problems (4, 5).
15 Omega 3 Fatty Acid Options
- Chia Seed
- Kidney Beans
It's recommended that men eat at least 1.6 grams and women eat at least 1.1 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily.
Your doctor may recommend that you also take omega-3 fatty acid supplements if you have risk factors for heart disease (6).
Oats & Other Whole Grain Foods
Whole grains have a lot of scientific support in promoting long-term heart health.
Some studies have shown that people with diets high in whole grains are more likely to live longer. Other studies support that whole grains may help to decrease the risk of chronic health conditions like diabetes and even some types of cancer.
Whole grains are unrefined grains that are eaten when they are in their ‘whole form’, meaning they contain all 3 parts of the kernel - the bran, germ, and endosperm. The whole grain stamp can make finding them easier in the grocery store (7).
15 Choices with Whole Grain Goodness
- Whole Flower
In general it’s recommended to eat 2-3 servings of whole grains daily.
Beans & Other Fiber Rich Foods
High fiber choices - like beans may also help lower blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors. Beans specifically are also rich in potassium, magnesium, and other micronutrients.
A diet that is high in fiber has other health benefits like controlling cholesterol and blood glucose levels and has been linked to promoting healthy weight loss (8).
20 High Fiber Picks
- Whole Oats
- Sesame Seeds
The FDA recommends getting at least 25g of fiber each day from food.
Almonds & Other Magnesium Rich Foods
Some studies suggest that magnesium-rich dietary choices may help lower blood pressure as well as promote cardiovascular health.
This mineral may accomplish these health benefits in a variety of ways, including the promotion of nitric oxide formation as well as combating the bad effects of salt (10,11).
10 Choices with Magnesium
- Lowfat Yogurt
While more research needs to be done for scientists to figure out the specifics, currently recommended dietary intakes for adults are around 300mg each day of magnesium.
Yogurt & Other Calcium Rich Foods
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and may help control blood pressure in a variety of ways including helping to dilate blood vessels (12).
Some people theorize that low-fat dairy products may independently improve blood pressure to a greater extent than just containing calcium. However, the influence of dairy products on blood pressure is still controversial.
Some clinical trials have reported that low-fat dairy options may reduce your risk of hypertension by as much as 16%. However, other studies don’t show as much of an impact. It’s unclear if some of the improvements noted are confounded by the correlation of people who choose low-fat products also leading generally healthier lifestyles (13).
10 Calcium Sources
- Orange Juice*
- Cottage Cheese
- Turnip Greens
It's recommended that adults get at least 1000 mg of calcium daily.
*These items are fortified with calcium, meaning they don't naturally contain significant amounts of calcium until it's added during processing. Be sure to read the label on things like orange juice, tofu, and soymilk to ensure you're buying a fortified version if you're counting this towards your daily calcium needs.
Clinical trials on flaxseed have shown promise in helping hypertension. It’s possible these effects are from fiber and other important micronutrients. However, it also contains compounds called α-linolenic acid and lignans that may be beneficial for blood pressure regulation as well.
Flaxseed comes in a variety of forms including in oil, sometimes called linseed oil, ground, and in whole seeds (14).
An easy way to get flaxseed into your diet is by blending it into a protein shake or smoothie or adding it to your morning oatmeal.
How to Create a Diet That Will Lower Your Blood Pressure
Are you wondering how to string together all of these choices to build a diet that will help you lower your blood pressure? We understand it's a wide variety to choose from and you may not know where to start.
Don't feel pressured to include everything from this list in your meals daily or even weekly, although it's likely you already consume many of the items listed on a regular basis.
To start, you may try adding a few new options each week or try incorporating a new item from this list into recipes you're already making.
If you want to take some of the guesswork out of it, try one of our meal plans that are filled with healthy protein, vegetables, and grains to support your efforts in lowering your blood pressure and improving your overall health.
If you're looking for more tips on how to lower your blood pressure, read this article.