High blood pressure or hypertension is the most common preventable risk factor for heart disease. It’s known as the “silent killer” because it usually has no symptoms but can develop over time, eventually leading to a life-threatening event like a heart attack or stroke. Data suggests that over 26% of the world’s population (972 million people) have high blood pressure. That is an alarming number and every now and then, the governments are bringing attention to this issue.
Blood pressure is a lifestyle disease that can develop over time. It is due to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as inadequate physical activity and eating unhealthy foods, particularly those high in sodium. Sodium retains water in the body, putting additional pressure on blood vessels causing blood pressure to rise.
Apart from medication, lifestyle changes, including eating a heart-healthy diet, can help you reach and maintain healthy blood pressure. In addition, it can be an effective initial treatment when blood pressure creeps into the unhealthy zone and is a perfect partner for medications.
Blood Pressure: Everything You Should Know About
What is Blood Pressure?
As the name suggests, blood pressure is the force or pressure with which the blood pushes against your blood vessels’ walls. The heart pumps blood into your arteries (blood vessels) that carry it throughout the body. A healthy individual’s average blood pressure level is 120/80 mmHg or less. When the pressure in your arteries exceeds the normal range, it leads to hypertension. High blood pressure can happen due to several factors, including weight gain or eating foods high in sodium.
What does having Blood Pressure mean for your heart?
There is a straightforward relationship between your heart health and blood pressure. Good blood pressure means a healthy heart and a low risk of stroke and heart attack.
The foods you eat affect your blood pressure levels, raising or lowering them. High blood pressure weakens your arteries, reducing blood and oxygen flow to your heart and causing heart disease.
How does diet affect blood pressure?
Several factors like your meal timing and the types of food can affect your blood pressure to rise and fall. That’s because, after eating, our bodies are busy redirecting blood to the digestive tract to aid in digestion. This blood pressure diversion may cause a temporary drop in blood pressure in other parts of the body. To compensate for this change, blood vessels in other parts of the body constrict, causing your heart to beat faster. As a result, it requires greater force to maintain a healthy blood pressure level throughout the body.
Over time, excessive salt intake stiffens and narrows the blood vessels, reducing blood and oxygen flow to the organs. So, the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. As a result, your blood pressure rises.
Dietary Guidelines recommend adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. That is about one teaspoon of table salt. The recommended limits for children under the age of 14 are even lower. But some foods like processed dishes and fried foods provide more than that in just one serving!
Below, we list some of the best and worst foods that can affect your blood pressure.
Foods for Healthy Blood Pressure: Best foods
A healthy balanced diet rich in nutrients like potassium and magnesium is essential for lowering blood pressure and maintaining optimal levels. In addition, you must include the following foods in your diet to keep your blood pressure levels under control:
Beets and beet greens are exceptionally nutritious, loaded with Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B9, Iron, and other antioxidants. They help promote healthy blood pressure levels and play a key role in controlling damage to blood vessels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Beets are naturally rich in nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide. Research has shown that this compound lowers blood pressure by relaxing and widening the blood vessels.
Another research found that people who drank about 1 cup (250 ml) of the juice every day for four weeks had an average drop of 8/4 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) in their blood pressure. This change brought many people’s blood pressure back into the normal range.
You can use Beets to make salads, dips, or blend into juices or smoothies. They can be quartered for a grain bowl, diced for slaw, or mashed to make hummus or a spread.
Bananas are a super fruit high in potassium and low in sodium. They are also high in fibre, vitamin A, vitamin B9, and vitamin C.
Research has shown that consuming potassium-rich foods reduces kidney pressure. It also aids in eliminating excess sodium in the body by flushing extra sodium out of your system via urine. That helps maintain electrolyte and fluid balance in the body, controlling blood pressure.
Bananas are incredibly healthy, but they are also one of the most convenient snack foods available. They go well with yoghurt, cereal, and smoothies, and they’re delicious as a topping on whole-grain toast with peanut butter. You can even substitute them for sugar in baking and cooking.
Beans and Lentils
Lentils are a staple in many diets worldwide because they are high in vegetarian protein and fibre. Lentils also contain high amounts of magnesium and potassium.
A study has shown that beans and lentils significantly reduced SBP (systolic blood pressure) and average blood pressure levels in hypertensive and non-hypertensive people.
Beans and lentils are very versatile and are easy to incorporate into any meal. You can use them in salads or pasta, use them to make burger patties, mix them into mashed potatoes or soups, or make a curry to serve with rice or chapati.
Berries have several impressive health benefits, including the possibility of lowering heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. In addition, strawberries and blueberries are high in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, which are pigments that give berries their vibrant colour.
Anthocyanins increase your blood’s nitric oxide levels and decrease the production of blood-vessel-restricting molecules, potentially lowering blood pressure. According to research, those who consume the most anthocyanins — primarily from blueberries and strawberries — have an 8% lower risk of developing high blood pressure. However, it is relative, i.e., compared to those who consume lesser anthocyanins.
Add berries to your morning oatmeal or overnight oatmeal, as well as a post-workout or a morning smoothie.
Citrus fruits, such as kiwis, oranges, and lemons, are high in vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. As a result, they help keep your heart healthy by lowering risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure.
A study found that daily lemon juice consumption combined with walking was significantly related to lower SBP. The researchers attribute this to the citric acid and flavonoid content of lemons.
You can blend citrus fruits to make juices or add sprouts or peanut salad. Adding a splash of lime juice or lemon to guacamole or oatmeal can also give you a healthy dose of vitamin C.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Like beets, green leafy vegetables are high in nitrates. They are full of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants, making them excellent for high blood pressure.
A study of people who ate 500 mL of a high nitrate spinach soup daily for seven days found that they had lower SBP (systolic blood pressure) and DBP (diastolic blood pressure). It is a comparison with those who ate low nitrate asparagus soup. In addition, the spinach soup also reduced artery stiffness, potentially lowering blood pressure and improving heart health.
You can stir spinach into stews and curries, bake a batch of kale chips or sauté baby spinach or swiss chard with garlic for a tasty side dish. It will give you your daily dose of greens.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is the DASH eating plan because it is more of a “way of eating” than a diet. It is a scientific plan to help lower blood pressure through a flexible and balanced eating pattern.
On this list, there isn’t a single “magic” food. Instead, it serves as the foundation for an overall healthy eating plan beneficial to blood pressure and so much more. It includes eating fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. It’s low in sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat, processed foods with added salt and sugar, and alcohol. It also establishes a daily sodium limit of 2,300 mg.
Foods for Healthy Blood Pressure: Worst foods
Packaged and ready-to-eat foods frequently contain trans fats and saturated fats. They also have high sugar, sodium, and low fibre carbohydrates. These additives increase shelf life and stability.
According to research, eating them raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of hypertension. Trans fats also increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The best way to limit your intake of processed foods is to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet and choose whole grain foods instead of refined products.
The ingredients in frozen pizzas include sugar, saturated fat, and high levels of sodium, as well as cheese, which is also high in sodium.
One 12-inch frozen pepperoni pizza contains 3,140 mg of sodium, which is well above the daily limit of 2,300 mg.
Alternatively, make your pizza at home with homemade dough, low sodium cheese, and your favourite vegetables as toppings.
Red and Processed Meat
Red meat is high in both sodium and saturated fat. To be precise, these foods have a sodium content of 750 mg or more per serving. When it comes to sodium intake, burgers and sandwiches are at the top of the list due to red and processed meats. In addition, hot dogs, corned beef, bacon, and sausage are processed meats high in sodium.
Here is a quick tip. Replace red and processed meats with healthier alternatives such as chicken or fish and vegetarian options such as legumes, vegetables, and tofu.
It’s no secret that traditional fast-food chains use a lot of fat and salt to make their food taste better. Still, you should also be aware that larger portion sizes contribute to higher sodium counts when you eat out.
Higher consumption of these foods can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol in the long run.
To reduce your fast food intake, plan your snacks. You must always practise mindful eating, which can help you avoid digestive problems, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.
Drinking too much alcohol is another significant reason for a spike in blood pressure levels. Alcohol also interferes with the effectiveness of blood pressure medications you may be taking due to drug interactions.
Research has discovered a link between drinking less alcohol and having lower blood pressure in people having more than two drinks per day daily.
Additionally, many alcoholic beverages contain a lot of sugar and calories. Alcohol consumption is also responsible for unhealthy weight gain and obesity, increasing the risk of hypertension.
What else should I do to maintain healthy Blood Pressure?
- Increase your activity level and exercise more.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Practice meditation or yoga.
- Increase your intake of dietary fibre.
- Take your medications on time.
- Reduce your stress levels.
- Quit smoking and drinking alcohol.
Foods can impact your blood pressure, both positively and negatively. For example, high-sugar, high-salt, and high-trans and saturated-fat foods can raise blood pressure and damage the heart. However, you can maintain healthy blood pressure by limiting these foods and replacing them with healthy alternatives.
A diet containing whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean protein can help keep your heart in good shape. Along with these, other lifestyle modifications like increasing your physical activity and taking medications can significantly help in bringing back your blood pressure levels to normal range.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What is normal blood pressure for a 70-year-old?
A. Seniors should have a blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg (systolic/diastolic), similar to younger adults. To keep the blood pressure levels in a normal range, seniors should eat more fibre and green vegetables in their diet.
Q. What is healthy blood pressure during pregnancy?
A. A pregnant woman’s blood pressure should also be less than 120/80 mm Hg. Anything higher than that could indicate pre-eclampsia, and one should contact a doctor.
Q. Can normal blood pressure have a heart attack?
A. Blood pressure is not a reliable indicator of the likelihood of a heart attack. Although a heart attack can cause an increase or decrease in blood pressure, a change in blood pressure is not always an indication of a heart attack. Instead, look at your overall symptoms and contact a healthcare provider to determine if you have a heart attack.
Q. Does healthy blood pressure mean a healthy heart?
A. What determines your blood pressure is the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of blood flow resistance in your arteries. The higher your blood pressure, the more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries become. So, if your blood pressure is less than or equal to 120/80 mmHg, it means your heart can pump blood easily and without much resistance.
Q. What food lowers blood pressure quickly?
A. Outside of a medical setting, there is no quick or safe way to lower blood pressure. Still, eating foods high in potassium can help the kidneys flush sodium out of our systems, lowering our blood pressure. Some high-potassium foods to try are leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, and citrus fruits.
Q. Are eggs good for blood pressure?
A. Eggs are a well-known protein source that can help reduce blood pressure. They’re great for breakfast or evening snacks and can also be used to replace red or processed meats in your diet.
Q. What fruit should I eat every day?
A. Eating fruit improves heart health while boosting your immune system, reducing inflammation, and keeping blood pressure levels within the normal range. You should include apples, kiwi, oranges, berries, and others in your diet to promote good digestion and support gut and heart health.