The Better Blood Pressure Diet

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High blood pressure is serious business. It’s a leading cause of preventable deaths among men. Luckily, better nutrition can lower your blood pressure and extend your life expectancy. Here’s what to eat, and what to avoid. 

Is your doctor nagging you about high blood pressure? Pay attention.

High blood pressure is serious business.  It could lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, even Alzheimer's.

In fact, in terms of individual risk factors for preventable health conditions, only smoking causes more deaths to Americans.

Think about it like this: If you are a 35 year old man and your blood pressure is 120/80. Congrats – your life expectancy is 76 years (assuming you are healthy otherwise).

Now imagine this: You are a 35 year old man and your blood pressure is 150/91. Bummer – your life expectancy is 55 years.

Want to turn things around? Good idea.

Together with lifestyle factors (good sleep, reduced stress, regular exercise, limited use such as alcohol and tobacco) nutrition can go a long way to reduce high blood pressure. Here’s how.

How to lower your blood pressure with good nutrition

Diets built around whole, unprocessed plant foods can help control blood pressure. People with existing high blood pressure who add more plants to their diets can lower blood pressure into a healthy range — even if they don’t lose weight.

Here’s what a healthy blood-pressure friendly diet looks like:

More plants! Especially those that contain arginine, lycopene, folate, fiber, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and vitamins C and E. You could get kind of nerdy and look up foods that contain all these micronutrients, but you could also just “eat the rainbow.” Get a diverse mix of colorful fruits and veggies every day, and you’ll be doing your body a favor.

Plenty of lean protein. Protein dense foods help control insulin release. Plant proteins like beans/legumes are also good substitutes for more refined carbohydrates.

At least 3 servings of intact whole grains each day. This means whole grains such as brown rice, whole oat groats, sprouted grain bread, quinoa, etc. Whole grains can improve blood vessel elasticity.

10-30 grams/day of dark chocolate. Compounds in cocoa may help blood vessel elasticity. Plus, it makes you feel good, and reducing stress is a great way to lower blood pressure!

Healthy fats. Get plenty of omega-3s from oily fish (and other marine life), wild-caught game meats, and flax (ALA, EPA and DHA all seem to help). High omega-3 intake is linked to lower blood pressure, likely because of omega-3s influence on eicosanoid production, which helps control vessel dilation and platelet aggregation.

Less sugar. Americans eat about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which might be contributing to our rampant high blood pressure. Excess sugar can make us fat, which can lead to high blood pressure.

Plus, eating lots of added sugars may also activate the sympathetic nervous system, decrease urinary sodium excretion, increase sodium absorption in the GI tract, and decrease blood vessel nitric oxide. Not good.

Less salt. It’s well established that dietary salt plays a role in regulating blood pressure. More sodium means higher blood pressure; conversely, lowering sodium lowers blood pressure too. But don’t fear sprinkling a little salt into your homemade lentil soup. When we talk about over-salted Americans, we’re talking about processed foods and restaurants. You still need some sodium, especially if you’re active. About 80% of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods.

Diet isn’t the only factor in high blood pressure. As I mentioned, other lifestyle factors including stress matter a lot. You may choose to explore relaxation techniques like meditation, for example.

But nutrition can go a long way to either help or hurt the condition. What you eat is in your control. Don’t let something like high blood pressure steal away your life expectancy.

References

Elmer PJ, et al. Effects of comprehensive lifestyle modification on diet, weight, physical fitness, and blood pressure control: 18-month results of a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2006;144:485-495.

He FJ & MacGregor GA. Effect of longer-term modest salt reduction on blood pressure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2004(3):CD004937.

He FJ, Markandu ND, MacGregor GA. Modest salt reduction lowers blood pressure in isolated systolic hypertension and combined hypertension. Hypertension 2005;46:66-70.

Dumler F. Dietary sodium intake and arterial blood pressure. J Ren Nutr 2009;19:57-60.

Craig WJ, Mangels AR: American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc 2009;109:1266-1282.

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