If left untreated, chronic high blood pressure can have deadly consequences – including heart attack and stroke.
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Hypertension can be treated with medications, but you can do your own part to control high blood pressure simply by eating a healthier diet.
Eating for blood pressure regulation
Eating to lower your blood pressure is all about simplicity and balance. Whole, fresh foods that are naturally low in sodium and eaten in moderation at regular intervals will bring your blood pressure readings down, according to Cleveland Clinic dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. “Basically to lower your blood pressure you eat more natural, so foods that aren’t processed in a box, a bag, or a can.”
In addition, eating small, frequent meals will help regulate your metabolism, avoid blood sugar spikes and keep insulin levels low. These metabolic checks also help balance and regulate your blood pressure.
Finally, eating whole foods that are rich in whole grains and fiber helps prevent you from overeating and gaining weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important in keeping your blood pressure levels low.
To eat a blood pressure-friendly diet, choose vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains prepared without added salt. Avoid salty sauces or overly fatty preparations. Flavor foods with fresh or dried herbs and seasoning blends that do not contain salt. Consult your physician before using salt substitutes.
Include foods that are rich in potassium, an electrolyte that regulates your heartbeat and blood pressure. Examples of vegetables that contain essential heart-healthy potassium include sweet potatoes and broccoli. Bananas and dried plums (prunes) are also potassium rich.
Fresh vegetables form the basis of a blood pressure-lowering diet. Vegetables are nutrient rich, but low in calories. They also have a high water and fiber content. Best of all, they are naturally low in sodium.
Fresh fruits are also natural, low-sodium choices. Though fruits and vegetables both contain carbohydrates, they are bound up in a healthy package of vitamins, minerals and fiber, one that helps you keep your blood pressure levels in check.
Lean proteins provide you with the building blocks of a healthy immune system, without artery-clogging saturated animal fats. Fatty red meats contain carnitine, which research shows increases the inflammatory response in the body. In turn, inflammation can lead to plaque-filled arteries and high blood pressure. Savory sources of lean protein include egg whites and skinless chicken breast.
Fats provide calories and taste and play a role in maintaining brain health. Choosing the right fat can help you keep your blood pressure levels lower. Olive oil and walnuts are examples of healthy fats.
Following the DASH diet has been shown to lower blood pressure in multiple studies sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The Dash Diet
- Focuses on fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds
- Limits saturated fat and cholesterol
- Limits added sugars and red meat
- Limits sodium levels to 2,300 milligrams per day, which is lower than the daily amount of sodium most Americans consume
Lowering daily sodium to just 1,500 milligrams is advisable for high-risk groups, such as people who:
- Have high blood pressure
- Have diabetes or kidney disease
- Are older or middle-aged adults
- Are of African-American descent