Nearly a third of Americans have high blood pressure. Another third have prehypertension, a condition in which blood pressure is higher than normal but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as hypertension. If you have high blood pressure or prehypertension, studies have shown that you can lower your blood pressure by eating a healthy diet.
A healthy diet emphasizes:
- lean protein
- whole grains
- low-fat dairy
- fruits and vegetables
Unfortunately, many foods can prevent you from lowering your blood pressure. Keep reading to learn about 10 foods you should limit or avoid.
Salt and sodium are villains when it comes to living with high blood pressure and heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that people with hypertension or prehypertension limit their daily sodium intake to just 1,500 milligrams. Currently, the average American eats more than twice that amount, or about 3,400 milligrams a day.
More than 75 percent of the sodium you eat in a day comes from packaged foods, not what you add at the table with a saltshaker. Some of the saltiest sources of packaged foods include:
- deli meat
- frozen pizza
- vegetable juices
- canned soup
- canned or bottled tomato products
Processed deli and lunch meats can be real sodium bombs. These meats often are cured, seasoned, and preserved with salt. A two-ounce serving of some lunchmeats could be 600 milligrams of sodium or more. If you have a heavier hand with the cold cuts, you’ll get even more sodium. Add bread, cheese, condiments, and pickles, and your simple sandwich can quickly become a sodium trap.
All pizzas can be bad for people watching their sodium intake. The combination of cheese, cured meats, tomato sauce, and bread adds up to a lot of sodium. But frozen pizza is especially dangerous for hypertensive people. To maintain flavor in the pizza once it has been cooked, manufacturers often add a lot of salt. One-sixth of a frozen pizza can be as much as 1,000 milligrams of sodium, sometimes even more. The thicker the crust and the more toppings you have, the higher your sodium number will climb.
Preserving any food requires salt. The salt stops the decay of the food and keeps it edible longer. However, salt can take even the most innocent cucumber and make it a sodium sponge. The longer vegetables sit in canning and preserving liquids, the more sodium they can pick up. A whole dill pickle spear can contain as much as 300 milligrams of sodium. Reduced sodium options are available, containing about 100 milligrams of sodium each.
They’re simple and easy to prepare, especially when you’re in a time crunch or not feeling well. However, canned soups are filled with sodium. Canned and packaged broths and stocks can be bad, too. Some soups can have 890 milligrams of sodium or more in just one serving, which is typically one-half cup. If you consume the entire can, you’ll be taking in 2,225 milligrams of sodium. Low-sodium and reduced-sodium options are available. A better option is to make your own from a low-sodium recipe to keep the salt in check.
As a rule, tomato products are problematic for people with hypertension. Canned tomato sauces, pasta sauces, and tomato juices are all high-sodium culprits. A half-cup serving of classic marinara sauce can have more than 450 milligrams of sodium. A cup of tomato juice comes in at 650 milligrams. You can often find low-sodium or reduced-sodium versions of all of these. For people looking to keep their blood pressure down, these alternative options are a smart choice.
You likely already know that excessive sugar intake has been linked to increased cases of weight gain and obesity. But did you know that high sugar intake is also linked to high blood pressure? Sugar, especially sugar-sweetened drinks, have contributed to an increase in obesity in people of all ages. High blood pressure is more common in people who are overweight or obese. Currently, the USDA does not have a recommended daily limit for sugars. But the American Heart Association recommends that women limit added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons (or 24 grams) per day, and that men keep themselves restricted to 9 teaspoons (or 36 grams) per day.
People with hypertension should avoid saturated and trans fats. Chicken skin is high in saturated fat. So are full-fat dairy, red meat, and butter. Trans fats are created in a process called hydrogenation. Liquid oils are infused with air to make a solid oil. Trans fats are found naturally in small amounts in fatty meats and dairy products. However, the biggest contributor of trans fats is packaged and prepared foods. Hydrogenated oils increase packaged foods’ shelf life and stability.
Consuming too many saturated and trans fats increases your LDL, or bad cholesterol. High LDL levels may make your hypertension worse, and may eventually lead to the development of coronary heart disease.
If you have hypertension or prehypertension, now may be the time to kick your coffee habit. Your morning cup (or cups) of Joe can actually cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, this may be contributing to your hypertension. In fact, any caffeinated drinks may cause an increase in your blood pressure — this includes soda or caffeinated tea.
Small to moderate amounts of alcohol may lower your blood pressure, but drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. Drinking too much can also increase your risk for many cancers, even for people who only drink occasionally. According to the Mayo Clinic, having more than three drinks in one sitting can cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. Repeated drinking can lead to long-term blood pressure problems.
Alcohol can also prevent any blood pressure medications you may be taking from working effectively. In addition, alcohol is full of calories and can lead to weight gain. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have high blood pressure.
If you drink too often or need help cutting back, speak with your healthcare provider.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension or prehypertension, a few smart-eating strategies can help you prevent blood pressure spikes and possibly even reduce your blood pressure. Making a few easy swaps, such as looking for reduced-sodium, no sodium, or trans-fat free options, can help you cut back on the bad foods and find better options.
It’s important to remember that eating with hypertension isn’t about deprivation. It’s about eating smart and healthy for your body. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been shown to be effective for reducing and managing hypertension. This therapeutic diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables with every meal, and also includes high fiber foods like nuts, beans, and whole grains.