Nearly one-third of American adults have high blood pressure (hypertension), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have high blood pressure, you can lower your blood pressure by eating a healthy diet.
A healthy diet emphasizes:
Many foods and beverages can prevent you from lowering your blood pressure. Keep reading to learn about nine that you should limit or avoid.
Salt and sodium are villains when it comes to living with high blood pressure and heart disease. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that people with high blood pressure limit their daily sodium intake to just 1,500 milligrams (mg). According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American eats about 3,400 mg a day, more than twice that amount.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that around 75 percent of the sodium Americans eat in a day comes from packaged foods, not what they add at the table with a saltshaker. Some of the saltiest 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 are often cured, seasoned, and preserved with salt. A 2-ounce serving of some lunch meats could contain 500 mg 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 a poor choice for people watching their sodium intake. The combination of cheese, cured meats, tomato sauce, and crust adds up to a lot of sodium. But frozen pizza is especially dangerous for people with high blood pressure.
To maintain flavor in the pizza once it’s been cooked, manufacturers often add a lot of salt. One serving of a frozen cheese or meat-and-cheese pizza can contain more than 700 mg of sodium, sometimes even more. The thicker the crust and the more toppings you have, the higher the sodium number climbs.
Preserving any food requires salt. This is because it 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 390 mg of sodium. However, reduced-sodium options are available.
They’re simple and easy to prepare, especially when you’re crunched for time or not feeling well. However, canned soups are filled with sodium. Canned and packaged broths and stocks can be bad for blood pressure, too. Some soups can have almost 900 mg of sodium in just one serving, which is typically a 1/2 cup.
If you consume the entire can, you’ll be taking in more than 2,000 mg of sodium. Low- and reduced-sodium options are available. But a better option is to keep the salt in check by making your own soup from a low-sodium recipe.
As a rule, tomato products with added salt are problematic for people with high blood pressure. Most canned tomato sauces, pasta sauces, and tomato juices are high in sodium. A 1/2-cup serving of classic marinara sauce can have 400 mg of sodium or more. A cup of tomato juice can come in at more than 600 mg of sodium.
You can often find low- or reduced-sodium versions of all of these items. For people looking to keep their blood pressure down, these alternatives, as well as fresh tomatoes that are rich in lycopene, are smart choices that have many heart health benefits.
Sugar, especially sugar-sweetened drinks, has 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 U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t have a recommended daily limit for sugars. But the American Heart Association recommends that women limit their added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons, or 24 grams, per day. Men should restrict themselves to 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams, per day.
Trans fats are found naturally in small amounts of fatty meats and dairy products. However, the biggest contributors of trans fats are packaged and prepared foods. These also typically contain high amounts of sugar and other low-fiber carbohydrates.
Trans fats are created in a process called hydrogenation, where liquid oils are infused with air to make a solid oil. Hydrogenated oils increase packaged foods’ shelf life and stability. Research shows that heart health worsens when fats are substituted for processed carbohydrates and sugar.
Consuming too many saturated and trans fats increases your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known as “bad” cholesterol. High LDL levels may make your high blood pressure worse and could eventually lead to the development of coronary heart disease. To reduce these risks, don’t increase your sugar intake. Also replace animal, saturated, and trans fats with plant fats, such as:
Small to moderate amounts of alcohol may lower your blood pressure, but drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. Drinking too much may also increase your risk for many cancers, even for people who drink only 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, must be metabolized by the liver, and can lead to weight gain. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have high blood pressure.
If you’ve received a diagnosis of high blood pressure, 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 what you don’t need and instead find better options.
Fill up your plate with at least 50 percent vegetables and fruits. For very few calories, they provide potassium — which offsets the effects of sodium — fiber, antioxidants, and a range of other nutrients. In addition, beet and pomegranate juice have been shown to reduce blood pressure due to high nitrate content, and you can drink them regularly.
It’s important to remember that eating with high blood pressure isn’t about depriving yourself. It’s about eating smart and healthy for your body.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been shown to be effective in reducing and managing high blood pressure. This therapeutic diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables with every meal, and also includes high-fiber foods such as nuts, beans, and whole grains.