The ultimate dietary guide for high blood pressure
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With over a billion people suffering from High Blood Pressure, also called hypertension, this disease can be drastically controlled and managed through dietary choices. Hypertension is when the blood pressure pulsing through your arteries is chronically and consistently high.
For most people, the normal resting blood pressure should read 120/80. The upper number (120) is the pressure when your heart pulses, the lower number (80) is the pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting between beats. When left untreated, hypertension can cause serious damage to the arteries all over your body as well as to the heart and kidneys.
The exact cause of high blood pressure is unknown, most cases of hypertension fall under the “essential hypertension” category. Secondary hypertension, which makes up just 5-10% of cases, has known causes like kidney or hormonal issues. Although it makes up the bulk of cases, essential hypertension can be managed through the use of medications, lifestyle changes and an improved diet.
Things To Eat When You Have High Blood Pressure
While medication and exercise are vital parts of hypertension treatment, your diet plays an important role. Obesity, diabetes, stress and a poor diet are deeply associated with developing high blood pressure. Here are some foods you should eat to help reduce the strain on your system:
- Fruits like lemons, oranges and grapefruit are packed with vitamins, minerals and flavonoids which can help reduce blood pressure. Orange juice may affect your blood pressure medication so speak with your doctor first.
- Foods with Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, mackerel as well as nuts like walnuts, chia seed and flaxseed are great for reducing blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acid helps to reduce inflammation and cuts down on compounds that cause blood vessel constriction. Some fortified foods also include these fatty acids (like certain brands of milk, cereal, egg, etc.)
- Beans and lentils contain ample amounts of potassium, fibre and magnesium all three help in regulating blood pressure.
- Potassium has been linked to healthy blood pressure so foods pumpkin seeds, pistachios and spinach are also great additions to your hypertension diet.
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) not only contain antioxidants but also anthocyanins which are known to reduce the production of blood vessel constricting compounds in the body.
- Veggies like carrots, celery and broccoli should also be added to your diet since they each contain flavonoids and compounds that contribute to lower blood pressure. They also all have significant benefits to your body in general due to fibre, nutrients and minerals so they can help you not only reduce pressure but also stay healthy overall.
- Tomatoes and tomato products have been associated with better heart health and lower blood pressure. While potassium and lycopene in tomatoes are thought to be the cause of this benefit, the exact mechanism is not known.
Bad Vs Good- Which Staple Foods Are Safe To Continue
Rice is generally thought to be good for maintaining regular blood pressure levels, as are other whole grains. Some studies suggest that brown rice may be better than white since it contains more nutrition (especially potassium and magnesium).
Potatoes are another staple in most people's diets, however, the effect on hypertension is disputed. Some studies claim that since it has a high glycemic index (which increases blood sugar levels) it may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. On the other hand, potatoes are great sources of potassium, which is linked to lower blood pressure. Your best bet is to reduce your potato consumption (especially fried potatoes) but not avoid it completely.
Bread, pasta and baked goods made from whole grains are generally considered safe for people with high blood pressure but a high-carb diet may not be safe. Avoid white, refined products (pastas, flours and breads made from refined grain), and reduce the amount of carbs you consume.
Chicken and other lean meats are mostly safe to continue eating but note that they should be prepared and consumed skinless. Since sugar contributes to weight gain and diabetes, people with hypertension should reduce their consumption of refined sugar. For those with diabetes, it should be avoided completely.
Foods To Avoid
Certain foods are known to be detrimental for people with high blood pressure and should be cut out of your diet or reduced drastically. One of the main factors known to increase blood pressure is sodium which is present in common salt.
- Avoid salty foods like premade salad dressing, fried foods, fast foods and salted snacks.
- Fatty foods like certain meats (beef, pork) should be avoided as much as possible. Deli meats like salami, ham, prosciutto, bacon, cocktail sausages, etc., are not only high in salt but also have a high fat content.
- Canned foods, in general, should be avoided since salt is often one of the preservatives used in these products, meaning they have a higher than usual salt content than most foods. This may include canned meats and soups as well as pickled and preserved foods.
- Readymade soup powder and bouillon cubes are also very high in salt content, their use should be limited for people with high blood pressure.
- Vegetable oil, margarine and butter should be reduced or avoided as much as possible.
- The use of salt itself should be reduced, your doctor should be able to tell you an exact figure that is safe for you, which is typically under 2500-2000 milligrams per day for people with hypertension. Use vinegar, lemon and spices to season your food instead of only using salt.
Other Important Factors To Consider With Hypertension
Smoking and drinking alcohol are lifestyle factors heavily associated with hypertension, so these need to be avoided completely if you want to get your pressure down. In time, if your pressure is being managed well, an occasional drink may be safe, but this will depend on your doctor's advice. Similarly, lifestyle issues like work, family or personal stressors can also play a large role in prolonging episodes of high blood pressure, which can lead to damaged arteries and heart over time. In general, hypertension is known as the silent killer since it can cause severe damage over time with no outward or apparent symptoms. Lastly, even a few minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, cycling or even dancing) every day can help lower your blood pressure significantly. It is important to regularly speak with your doctor and a dietary specialist to create the most effective hypertension management plan for you, and stick to that plan with persistence.