Learning that you have high blood pressure (hypertension) can come as a shock since the condition typically has no symptoms.
The good news is that some lifestyle changes can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of complications such as heart attack, stroke, and dementia.
One of the key lifestyle factors? What you eat.
Your diet can affect your blood pressure either positively or negatively.
This article will explain how you can manage your blood pressure through diet, including foods that may help reduce blood pressure as well as foods to avoid if you have hypertension.
I’ll also discuss other ways to naturally manage blood pressure so you can keep your heart as healthy as possible.
What Is High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing through your veins and arteries.
It is measured using two numbers: systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure.
Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure when your heart beats, while diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure between beats.
Blood pressure readings are reported as the systolic number “over” the diastolic number, such as “110 over 70”, which is also written as 110/70 mm Hg.
Normal blood pressure ranges from 90/60 mm Hg to 120/80 mm Hg.
Blood pressure readings above 130/80 mm Hg are considered high blood pressure.
When a person’s blood pressure reading is consistently higher than normal, they may be diagnosed with hypertension.
Causes of high blood pressure
Certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing high blood pressure.
These risk factors include:
- Family history
- Older age
- Eating a diet high in sodium and low in potassium
- Lack of physical activity
- Other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and kidney disease
Symptoms of high blood pressure
High blood pressure is considered a silent condition because there are usually no symptoms until some body organs are affected.
The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is by checking your blood pressure reading.
A sustained systolic blood pressure of at least 130 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure of at least 80 mm Hg indicates high blood pressure.
How Diet Affects Blood Pressure
Your food choices can have a significant impact on your blood pressure in positive and negative ways.
Eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, lean meats, and low-fat dairy can help manage blood pressure.
On the other hand, eating a lot of red meat, fried foods, salt, and added sugars can contribute to high blood pressure.
The DASH diet
Created in the 1990s, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet helps reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or prehypertension (systolic pressure of 120–139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure of 80–89 mm Hg).
The diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy.
These foods are high in fiber, potassium, and other nutrients that support heart health.
The DASH diet also calls for reducing the consumption of red meat, full-fat dairy, sweets, and other foods and drinks high in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.
12 Foods for High Blood Pressure
Certain foods appear to be beneficial for blood pressure.
Consider adding the foods below to your diet on a regular basis.
Eating one cup of raw leafy greens or a half-cup of cooked greens a day may help lower systolic blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, a recent study of more than 53,000 adults found.
The researchers credit the nitrates in leafy greens.
The body converts nitrates to nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax and dilate, in turn improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure.
Beneficial leafy greens include:
- Beet greens
- Turnip greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Swiss card
Consuming berries has been linked to reduced cardiovascular risk, and blueberries in particular may lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function.
Researchers believe the anthocyanins—plant compounds that give foods a blue, purple, or red hue—play a key role in the heart benefits of berries.
Like leafy greens, red beets contain high levels of nitrates.
Several studies concluded that drinking beetroot juice appears to lower blood pressure in both healthy people and those with prehypertension and hypertension.
Eating beets may have similar benefits.
Skim milk and yogurt
Skim milk is made by removing fat from whole milk.
Studies have shown that consuming skim milk may reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
This may be because of the calcium, potassium, or other nutrients such as protein.
Or it may be that people who consume low-fat dairy have healthier lifestyles overall.
High dairy intake in the form of yogurt also is associated with a 10% lower risk of hypertension in adults.
However, this too is likely due not to the yogurt itself but to the fact that people who eat yogurt tend to eat healthier, heart-friendly diets.
Oats are famously rich in fiber, notably a fiber called beta-glucan, which appears may help lower high blood pressure.
Studies have shown that people with hypertension who add oats to their diet can significantly reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
In one study, doing so reduced systolic blood pressure by 7.5 mm Hg and diastolic pressure by 5.5 mm Hg.
Bananas are known for their potassium: A medium fruit provides about 9% of the daily recommended intake of this mineral.
Potassium helps manage hypertension by reducing sodium in the body and easing tension in the walls of the blood vessels.
However, if you have kidney disease, your body may not be able to remove extra potassium as effectively, so speak with your healthcare provider before attempting to consume more potassium.
Salmon and other fatty fish
Some evidence suggests that consuming salmon and other fatty fish may help reduce blood pressure in certain populations.
Scientists believe the omega-3 fatty acids in fish—particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—cause this change, though it’s unclear how this happens.
It’s best to stick with fish like salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, and lake trout, because there’s mixed evidence that fish-oil supplements provide the same benefit.
Flaxseed, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds are good sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber and therefore may help to lower blood pressure.
Be sure to choose unsalted seeds for the most benefit.
Researchers believe compounds in cocoa called flavanols boost the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
Pistachios are a source of fiber, plant protein, healthy fats, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are good for the heart.
This combination may be why the nuts may help lower blood pressure.
In one small study, adults who consumed 10% of their daily calories from pistachios reduced systolic blood pressure by 4.8 mm Hg.
If you consume 2,000 calories a day, 10% of your calories is a little more than a one-quarter cup of pistachios.
The fruit appears to reduce the activity of angiotensin converting enzymes (ACE). ACE narrows blood vessels, in turn increasing blood pressure.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil is the least processed olive oil.
One review concluded that consuming extra-virgin olive oils helps to reduce blood pressure thanks to its high amounts of oleic acid (a fatty acid) and antioxidants called polyphenol.
Foods to Avoid With High Blood Pressure
If you have hypertension, avoiding (or at least significantly reducing) certain foods may help manage your condition and prevent further problems.
Be mindful of your intake of the nutrients and foods below.
Consuming excessive salt (a.k.a. sodium chloride) causes the body to retain more water, which increases blood volume.
Added blood volume may cause blood pressure to rise, putting stress on the heart and blood vessels.
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend consuming no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily.
You can reach this goal by:
- Eating low-sodium or no-salt-added versions of packaged foods like soup, tomato sauce, chips, crackers, nuts, and canned beans, vegetables, and fruit.
- Flavoring home-cooked meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
- Asking waiters that meals prepared in restaurants be made with no salt.
- Not using the salt shaker at home or when dining out.
At the same time, try to consume more potassium.
Doing so can help you pee out more sodium, and the mineral also helps relax blood vessel walls, lowering blood pressure.
One note of caution: Too much potassium can be harmful to anyone with kidney disease.
In this case, talk to your healthcare provider before consuming any extra potassium.
While there’s no evidence of long-term effects on blood pressure, it’s best to consume caffeine in moderation and monitor how your body reacts.
You may find that it’s best to cut out caffeine completely.
There are several possible explanations: Alcohol may impair the functioning of blood vessels, reduce the availability of nitric oxide, disrupt vascular function, and/or throw off the balance of hormones that regulate fluid balance and blood pressure.
Eating a lot of red meat has been directly linked to higher blood pressure.
It’s unclear exactly why. Red meat contains advanced glycosylation end-products (AGEs), which appear to make the arteries stiffer, leading to higher blood pressure.
Red meat also contains other compounds that cause inflammation, which is associated with increased blood pressure.
Eating some red meat seems to be OK, but it’s best to eat no more than half a serving (1.25 ounces) a day.
Consuming high amounts of fried food may increase blood pressure.
Likely high levels of salts and saturated fats.
Consider steaming, grilling, roasting, or baking food instead.
Other Ways to Naturally Manage Your Blood Pressure
Food and medication aren’t the only ways to manage blood pressure.
Other lifestyle changes can help support healthy blood pressure.
Regular physical activity has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Exercise strengthens the heart and reduces stress, both of which may help with hypertension.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, such as:
Being active for at least a few minutes every day is better than trying to fit hours of exercise into one or two days a week.
If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before starting any fitness routine.
The nicotine in cigarettes increases heart rate and narrows arteries, raising blood pressure. Additionally, nicotine causes the artery walls to harden, which can lead to heart disease.
Quitting smoking benefits your health in numerous ways. If you need help:
- Talk to your healthcare provider about medication and other ways to cope with nicotine withdrawal.
- Find a support group.
- Identify your smoking triggers and make plans to avoid them.
- Avoid situations where you’ll be tempted to smoke.
While short-term stress leads to a sudden spike in blood pressure, it’s unclear if chronic stress has a direct effect on blood pressure.
Still, stress management can benefit mental and physical health in many ways.
Consider the following ideas:
- Practice relaxation techniques like meditation or journaling.
- Watch a comedy show or something else to make you laugh.
- Head outside without your phone for time in nature.
- When a stressful situation arises, pause and take three deep breaths.
- Seek help from a therapist.
Get proper sleep
Adults need about seven hours of sleep each night.
During that rest, blood pressure decreases.
Too little sleep means blood pressure remains elevated for longer and increases the risk of hypertension.
Increase your chances of a sound night’s sleep by going to bed at the same time each night, reducing screen time and caffeine consumption, and following a relaxing bedtime routine.
Monitor blood pressure levels regularly
Since high blood pressure rarely presents with noticeable symptoms, it’s very important to have regular readings.
You can have your blood pressure checked at the doctor’s office or many pharmacies.
Keeping track will give you a heads up if you should talk to your doctor about your blood pressure.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
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