Eat your way to lower blood pressure with some creative thinking in the kitchen.
Most of us know that exercise, along with weight and stress management, can help us control blood pressure. But did you know that upping or limiting the following foods in your diet can also help lower blood pressure? Some are no-brainers (bye, salty chips). Others might surprise you (is that … watermelon?). And all of them are easy to scale up or down as needed.
A 2015 study found that participants with hypertension who ate 30 g of ground flaxseed daily for six months experienced an average blood pressure reduction of 15 mmHg systolic and 7 mmHg diastolic (see “Know your numbers” on p. 26 to learn what “systolic” and “diastolic” mean). Flaxseed is a good source of fiber—which in itself can help regulate blood pressure—and of omega-3 fatty acids.
Melinda Edmonds, RD, says including fatty coldwater fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and lake trout) in your diet at least twice a week is another way to get omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to help lower blood pressure by reducing inflammation.
Potassium, not potato chips
Multiple studies have shown that individuals who increase potassium in their diet may experience a reduction in blood pressure. Katie Huston, RD, says this may be due to potassium causing the blood vessels to widen or helping the body to excrete sodium.
Additionally, Hana Klimczak, RD, says, “People who are sensitive to salt intake increasing their blood pressure also tend to be sensitive to potassium decreasing it. Potassium may be more effective in lowering blood pressure in people who typically consume a lot of salt in their diet. Some studies showed the best results when sodium intake was decreased and potassium intake increased, compared to doing one or the other.”
Sneaky, sneaky sodium
Julia Stanislavskaia, RD, cautions that those low-sodium labels can be misleading. “Remember that most salt comes from packaged goods, and what you add during cooking makes up only about 10 percent of your salt consumption. Check the nutrition label so you’re choosing foods that have less than 200 mg of sodium per serving,” she says. She recommends rinsing your canned goods to reduce sodium content by up to 30 percent.
Huston notes that while reducing your sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day has the greatest effect on lowering blood pressure, 2,000 to 2,300 mg per day may be more realistic for active individuals.
Cutting alcohol consumption, according to Stanislavskaia, causes an almost immediate reduction in blood pressure. If you don’t currently drink, she recommends that you don’t start.
In addition to the fact that many fruits contain potassium, some have also been associated with reducing blood pressure through other means. A recent study found that daily blueberry consumption lowered blood pressure and reduced arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women with pre- or stage 1 hypertension, possibly by raising subjects’ nitric oxide levels. Additionally, a pilot study found that the l-citrulline and l-arginine content in watermelon extract reduced some blood pressure parameters in obese people with prehypertension.
Some polyphenols—micronutrients found in a number of foods—have been shown to be effective in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. In particular, green tea has been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure due to its polyphenol content. Cocoa has also been found to lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.
Supplements to lower blood pressure
Speak with your doctor or health care practitioner about these supplements:
- omega-3s, including alpha-linolenic acid
- coenzyme Q10
- folic acid
Beyond bananas: 5 foods that are high in potassium
You’ll likely get enough potassium if you can consume the recommended four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables per day. That doesn’t have to mean a steady diet of bananas. You can also choose fruits and vegetables such as
- sweet potatoes