High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects as many as 50% of US adults. Untreated, it can lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, heart attack or even death. Fortunately, there are lifestyle changes that can help prevent, reduce or reverse high blood pressure.
What you eat and drink can have a direct effect on your blood pressure, either by raising it or lowering it. It’s important to understand how certain foods affect you:
Sodium vs Potassium – Excess sodium in the diet will raise your blood pressure, so it’s wise to limit how much salt you add to your food as well as avoiding processed foods which are often very high in added salt. On the other hand, increasing the amount of potassium you consume helps to balance out your sodium levels and reduce your blood pressure. Foods that are high in potassium include:
- Leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and arugula
- Sweet potatoes
- Cantaloupe and honeydew melons
- Wild caught salmon and halibut
Nitrate-rich plant foods are converted by your body into nitric oxide (NO) which is a substance that widens the blood vessels and eases blood flow, thereby lowering blood pressure. This is to be distinguished from the nitrates that are added to cured and processed meats like bacon and hot dogs are are carcinogenic, therefore to be avoided. Plants high in beneficial nitrates include:
- Red beets
- Swiss chard
- Mustard greens
Antioxidant-rich foods, especially polyphenols (phytochemicals, aka plant chemicals) offer many health benefits including improving blood vessel function and dilating blood vessels. Flavonoids are a type of polyphenol which are especially helpful in reducing blood pressure, especially the type of flavonoid knows as anthocyanins. Some of the best sources include:
- Berries, especially blueberries and strawberries
- Hibiscus tea
- Cocoa, dark chocolate
Other options to consider are magnesium-rich foods like halibut and mackerel, sunflower seeds and spinach or swiss chard. Also add pistachios, flaxseeds, oatmeal, garlic, natural yogurt and probiotics.
Avoid or reduce your consumption of coffee, alcohol, processed foods or those with added sugar. Lose weight – even losing 5 percent of your total weight will significantly lower your blood pressure. Exercise regularly, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, which will strengthen your heart and help it pump blood more efficiently, as well as helping you lose weight. Finally, relax and de-stress.