Health and Wellness: Getting Blood Pressure Under Control
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, increases the risk of dangerous health problems, such as heart attacks and strokes. Doctors measure blood pressure using two numbers, such as 120/80. The first number (systolic pressure) shows the surge of pressure in the arteries with every heartbeat, and the second number (diastolic pressure) shows the pressure between beats. If either one of these numbers is too high, blood pressure can be dangerous.1
Bringing blood pressure under control is very important, and treatment often involves taking medication. However, changing some lifestyle choices can bring you blood pressure down and may help reduce the need for medication.
Here are some tips for reducing your blood pressure:
Reduce salt in your diet. Cutting down on salt helps reduce blood pressure. See this issue's Quick Tip on how to reduce salt in the diet.
Eat more plants. People who follow plant-based diets typically have lower blood pressure.2,3,4
Plants are usually lower in fat, and fat causes the blood to be thicker, which, in turn, raises blood pressure.5 Plant products are also generally lower in sodium and have no cholesterol at all. Vegetables and fruits are rich in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.
Include more of the following foods in your diet which are naturally low in sodium:
- Whole grains: brown rice, whole wheat bread or pasta, unsweetened hot or cold cereal, millet, barley, buckwheat groats, and quinoa
- Beans/legumes: dried (not canned) black-eyed peas, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, navy beans, chickpeas, soymilk, textured vegetable protein, and tofu
- Vegetables: fresh or frozen varieties, such as broccoli, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, spinach, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and corn
- Fruits: fresh or frozen varieties, such as bananas, oranges, apples, pears, grapefruit, strawberries, mango, papaya, guava, strawberries, and blueberries
Lower your weight. Losing weight reduces your risk of diabetes, heart problems, joint problems, some cancers, and other conditions. If you have a significant weight problem, be sure to consult with your doctor about the best ways for you to lose weight.
Limit alcohol use. Alcohol can raise blood pressure and it helps to limit alcohol to no more than one to two drinks per day (beer and wine count as drinks).
Become more physically active. Exercise can help bring down your blood pressure. A typical healthy exercise schedule would include a brisk walk for a half-hour each day or one hour three times per week. Since exercise puts added strain on your heart, be sure to check with your doctor first about the best way for you to become more physically active.
Avoid tobacco. There are many good reasons to quit smoking, and healthier arteries is one of them.
Let your doctor know you are concerned about your blood pressure and want to use foods to help bring it under control. High blood pressure is dangerous, so, let your doctor guide you as to when and if your need for medication has changed.
1. The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. NIH Publication No. 03-5233; May 2003. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/jnc7full.htm. Accessed December 14, 2012.
2. Rouse IL, Beilin LJ. Editorial review: vegetarian diet and blood pressure. J Hypertension. 1984;2:231-240.
3. Lindahl O, Lindwall L, Spangberg A, Stenram A, Ockerman PA. A vegan regimen with reduced medication in the treatment of hypertension. Br J Nutr. 1984;52:11-20.
4. Appleby PN, Davey GK, Key TJ. Hypertension and blood pressure among meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans in EPIC-Oxford. Public Health Nutr. 2002;5(5):645-54.
5. Ernst E, Pietsch L, Matrai A, Eisenberg J. Blood rheology in vegetarians. Br J Nutr. 1986;56:555-560.