The food you eat affects your blood pressure. If you live with high blood pressure, making changes to your diet could be a healthy move. Research has shown that lifestyle modifications such as avoiding certain foods may help lower and control high blood pressure.
Treatment options for high blood pressure include various medications and surgeries, but these therapies will not be as effective if you don’t address the underlying cause of the condition, which often is diet. To achieve and maintain healthier blood pressure levels, scientists recommend reducing or eliminating certain foods you eat.
Making changes to what you eat might seem difficult. When adjusting your diet to combat high blood pressure or other health issues, approaching your new eating habits with a positive outlook can make the transition easier. Adopting the mindset that food is nourishment and a means of improving your health, quality of life, and length of life can help you embrace dietary changes.
Scientific studies have shown that the Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet helps people lower their blood pressure. The eating plan centers around consuming less saturated and trans fats, sodium, and sugar and eating more foods that are high in calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, and protein.
The DASH eating plan provides guidelines for daily recommended amounts of food to include in your diet. Prepared and prepackaged foods — which typically contain high amounts of fat, salt, or sugar — should be avoided. Instead, the diet recommends increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and lean meat. The guide to the DASH diet provides tips and recipe ideas for lowering blood pressure and also for cutting calories, since weight loss also helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
Most sodium in foods is in the form of salt, which is added to foods during processing for flavor or preservation purposes. Consuming sodium directly increases blood pressure. When you ingest salt, your body retains more water to flush out the sodium, which can lead to an increase in blood pressure.
Foods that are typically high in sodium and should be avoided or eaten in moderation include:
Health care groups such as the American Heart Association recommend that your sodium intake not exceed 1,500 milligrams per day.
“I watch my sodium intake a lot by keeping track of it. I try to stay within the limit prescribed. I use no-salt-added tomatoes and broth. It is amazing how much salt is added to everything,” one MyHeartDiseaseTeam member said.
When trying to limit your salt intake, also consider the sodium content of menu items when dining at a restaurant. Often these dishes contain much more sodium than those you make yourself.
If you cook at home, you have the ability to moderate how much salt you use. If you tend to add salt to your food for flavor, you might try salt-free options such as black pepper, garlic, herbs and spices, lemon, and vinegar.
You can also reduce your sodium intake with these tips:
One MyHeartDiseaseTeam member shared their tips for lowering sodium in the diet: “I season with onion and garlic powder and oregano. Also, malt vinegar has zero salt, so I use it as well, and I cook with no-salt chicken and beef broth. Also, white hard cheeses such as Swiss have very little in the way of sodium.”
It's important to limit or avoid foods that are high in saturated and trans fats when aiming to reduce your blood pressure. Eating saturated and trans fats can increase your blood pressure and levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Higher levels of LDL cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated and trans fats. Foods to avoid include:
When adopting a diet that will lower or prevent high blood pressure, it’s also recommended that you limit or avoid alcohol and limit processed sugar.
Drinking alcohol in moderation is OK. However, consuming more than moderate amounts — one 12-ounce drink per day for women and two 12-ounce drinks per day for men — can increase blood pressure and make blood pressure medications less effective.
Products with added sugar contain empty calories and usually offer no nutritional benefits. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugary drinks, since consuming soda has been linked to obesity. Being overweight increases the risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
It is recommended that daily added sugar intake not exceed 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men. Added sugars are common in processed foods, such as:
“I’ve stopped sodas, ice cream, cookies, and cake. I eat lots of veggies and fruit, including watermelon. I have diet pudding with spray cream and graham crackers for dessert,” mentioned one MyHeartDiseaseTeam member who is reducing their sugar intake.
Changing your diet and making new lifestyle choices present their own set of hurdles. Here are some tips for implementing a new diet to help lower your blood pressure.
Rather than focus on the foods you need to avoid, pay greater attention to what you can eat. You can pick from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, low-salt meats, and other low-fat and low-salt foods. This could be an opportunity to try new foods.
Try keeping a food diary — make note of everything you eat each day for an entire week. This can help you understand your dietary habits and can be useful if you’re working with a nutritionist or doctor to improve your diet.
A member of MyHeartDiseaseTeam described the benefits of writing down what you eat: “Keeping the food log is vital to watch my fluid and sodium intake. Being able to see what I eat — what I eat too much of and not enough of — really helps me.”
When shopping for food, read labels to understand exactly what is in the package. Pay attention to how much fat, salt, and sugar are in a serving to help you stay below the daily recommended amounts.
“I read labels and use basically the same recipes, only I leave out the salt,” one member of MyHeartDiseaseTeam shared. “Anybody that can eat salt has to salt it at the table. I never pick up the salt shaker, and I really don’t miss it anymore!”
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Are you living with heart disease or high blood pressure? Do you avoid any foods or follow a specific diet? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.