Fighting Hypertension With Diet
If you are 1 of the 3 American adults fighting hypertension, chances are you’re looking for simple diet modifications which can make a big difference towards helping you fight off heart disease. The good news is that even minimal lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on your heart and circulatory health.
What exactly is high blood pressure? With blood pressure being defined as the force at which your heart is pumping blood throughout your body, a daily blood pressure reading over 140/90 mmHg would be considered high, or hypertension. The top number, called your systolic pressure, is the force at which blood is pumping when your heart is beating. The bottom number, called your diastolic pressure, is the force at which blood is pumping between heartbeats. Healthy blood pressure readings land somewhere between 90/60 and 120/80 depending on your age and activity levels.
High blood pressure is a prevalent public health concern as overtime it can damage crucial blood vessels, weaken the heart, and increase the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, stroke, kidney disease, and more.
Don’t miss these expert diet tips for tackling hypertension for good:
Eat Foods Low in Salt
One of the most commonly known high blood pressure culprits is salt. Table salt is a common source of sodium for most adults, and sodium is a mineral essential to many bodily functions. Too much sodium, however, can lead to fluid retention in the kidneys which causes high blood pressure.
The kidneys play an important role in helping remove excess fluid from the bloodstream so your body can eliminate it. When excess sodium throws off the delicate water balance in your blood, it prevents the kidneys from properly doing their job, placing undue stress on critical blood vessels and increasing the volume of blood pumping through your circulatory system. This requires the heart to pump with harder and harder force.
Unfortunately, in western diets, sodium is everywhere. In fact, many Americans consume 2 to 3x the daily recommended value of sodium, and that’s not even by overeating necessarily. The World Health Organization recommends people fighting high blood pressure consume less than 5 grams of salt per day which sounds simple enough, except that 3 slices of pepperoni pizza for dinner will actually have almost half that amount in it alone.
Limiting salt intake is easier when you:
- Consume lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Avoid eating processed and packaged foods
- Read nutritional labels carefully
- Seek out low-sodium varieties of your favorite foods
- Limit intake of cured meats (like bacon, deli meat, etc)
- Make smart choices when ordering out
Eat Foods High in Potassium
Potassium is a mineral electrolyte which is responsible for helping your brain send electrical signals through the body, especially for muscle contraction and healthy heart function. Potassium also works with sodium to help maintain the water balance cells in your bloodstream (which allows the kidneys to filter out excess fluid). Essentially, potassium helps combat the negative side effects of high sodium levels, like high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.
If you’re looking for fresh potassium-rich foods that are delicious and easy to find, stock up on:
- Winter squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Dried figs and apricots
- Legumes (like black beans)
Eat Low Fat Dairy
A staple of the well-respected DASH diet tailored to help those fighting high blood pressure, low-fat dairy generates loads of healthy effects in the body. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
Researchers believe that host of biochemical components in low-fat dairy play a role in lowering high blood pressure including potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as protein and vitamin D. In addition, when you limit the saturated fatty acids you commonly find in whole fat dairy products, you can potentially lower your risk for atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaques on artery walls which contributes to high blood pressure too. The recommended 3 servings of low-fat dairy foods a day may include:
- Skim milk
- Low-fat Greek yogurt
- Fat-free or low-fat cheese
- Fat-free or low-fat frozen yogurt
Eat Whole Grains
Skip the white bread and salty bagels, and aim to up your intake of healthy whole grains to fight high blood pressure. Whole grains are essentially any grain that hasn’t been refined which means it still contains its bran and germ - this includes brown rice, whole oats, freekeh, farro, buckwheat, whole grain barley, whole rye, and bulgur.
Whole grains contain loads of fiber which can help with weight management (makes you feel fuller longer) as well as prevent cholesterol buildup in the bloodstream. Not only that, but appreciable nutritional properties like potassium, folate, iron, and magnesium can help reinforce strong blood vessels and potentially lower your risk of developing insulin resistance which leads to Type II Diabetes.
In addition to smart diet modifications, fighting hypertension relies on routine exercise and self-monitoring. Recording your blood pressure daily at home with a manual blood pressure cuff or digital monitor empowers you to prioritize your own health, understand your baseline pressure, set goals, and track your progress. Hypertension is preventable and reversible when you intervene on your own behalf and make smart and nutritional lifestyle changes.