Fortune Well June 12, 2023
Nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke—two of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that percentage increases with age: roughly 70% of adults older than 65 have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. But lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, cutting back on alcohol, and getting proper nutrition can help.
Simply put, blood pressure is “pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries,” which carry blood to other parts of your body. While your blood pressure naturally fluctuates throughout the day, if it remains high for too long it can and lead to other health problems, such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
You might be diagnosed with hypertension if your systolic blood pressure (the first number in a reading) is greater than 130 mm Hg or your diastolic blood pressure is greater than 80 mm Hg, as defined by the CDC. Although medication can help you manage high blood pressure, diet changes can improve your numbers as well.
According to a 2020 study published in Advances in Nutrition, a Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (also known as DASH) helped people significantly reduce their blood pressure. The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and low in sodium. Another study found that following a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in seafood, fruit and nuts, could help lower blood pressure as well.
Whole foods that are heavily plant-based, high in fiber and rich in antioxidants is the best way to go, according to Julia Zumpano, a registered dietician at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.
“We know antioxidants protect ourselves from damage, which can be really helpful when it comes to our overall health and especially blood pressure,” says Zumpano, who specializes in preventive cardiology. “There’s a lot of focus on what not to eat and not enough focus on what to eat. We know that ultra processed foods, fast foods and packaged foods lead to increased levels of blood pressure, but antiinflammatory foods that are high in antioxidants can help lower it.”
Here’s what Zumpano recommends:
These foods protect against oxidative stress, which causes inflammation. Some options include:
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as a strong antioxidant and protects cells from damage. Examples include:
Potassium relaxes your blood vessel’s walls and helps your body remove excess sodium, says Zumpano; however, if you have kidney disease you’ll want to be mindful about the amount of potassium in your diet as your kidneys are unable to remove the extra potassium in your blood.
Selenium is another antioxidant that protects from oxidative stress. Selenium can be found in:
“L-arginine is an amino acid that helps make nitric acid, a chemical that aids in relaxing muscle cells, which some research shows can help lower blood pressure,” explains Zumpano. Those foods include:
Dairy is a high source of calcium, which has also been proven to help lower blood pressure. Experts recommend 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day, mostly from dairy. Other sources of calcium include:
Overall, foods that suppress inflammation, such as those high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in:
While you can get magnesium through supplements, there are also magnesium-rich foods that can help lower your blood pressure:
Garlic has also been proven to reduce inflammation, which can help lower blood pressure.
“It can also add flavor to food so that maybe you’re using less salt,” says Zumpano.
A variety of herbs and spices can also help lower blood pressure, such as:
When it comes to lowering blood pressure, nutrition is only one piece of the buzzle. It’s important to stay hydrated, avoid sugary drinks and exercise for at least 30 minutes most days.
“I always advise people to use the rainbow to guide your plate and get food of every color in the rainbow,” says Zumpano. “Then you’ll really be able to maximize the amount of nutrients you’re consuming in your diet, which helps your overall health and not just your blood pressure. It can also help prevent diabetes and promote overall health and suppress inflammation.”
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