High blood pressure is a silent condition that can lead to a whole host of health problems—the unknown nature of the condition leaving many people unaware.
Your diet is one way to proactively manage high blood pressure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 11 million Americans who have high blood pressure and don’t know it.
What’s more: the American Heart Association says more than 103 million people have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. That’s roughly 1 in 3 Americans.
According to facts from the CDC women and minorities are at particular risk for high blood pressure. And, perhaps surprisingly, young people are at risk too. High blood pressure can arise as young as 35.
Left unchecked, high blood pressure can lead to dire conditions ranging from dementia to heart disease.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been shown to be effective in reducing and managing high blood pressure.
The DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables with every meal and starts by viewing plants as a main meal component rather than a side dish. It also includes high-fiber foods such as nuts, beans, and whole grains.
“Diet and weight reduction can be very impactful in reducing one’s blood pressure,” said Katherine Carithers, MHA, RD, LDN, a clinical nutrition manager at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.
The DASH diet, Carithers explained, has been shown to lower blood pressure in people who have both high and normal blood pressure and should be recommended for people with hypertension.
The DASH diet also limits added sugar, saturated fat, and refined grains.
“This is a general, healthful eating pattern that is beneficial for other disease states including diabetes, obesity, and some cancers,” Carithers said.
The first step in eating to manage high blood pressure, or maintain one that is at a healthy level, is reducing sodium intake, especially for those who are “salt sensitive.”
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day with an ideal limit of 1500 mg of sodium per day.
But sodium reduction isn’t the only factor in controlling blood pressure.
“Ensuring adequate intakes of calcium, potassium, and magnesium is also important in keeping blood pressure in check,” she said. “This is why a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy are encouraged on the DASH diet.”
DASH puts plants at the forefront, but fish and poultry are still available. You can occasionally consume red meat in moderation. If you love red meat, one piece of advice Carithers offered is to look for cuts lower in fat. These could be “loin” or “round” cuts.
While there aren’t specific foods known to consistently raise and lower blood pressure on their own, an overall healthful dietary pattern can help to reduce blood pressure. Of course, exercise, sleep and abstaining from smoking or excess alcohol all contribute to ideal blood pressure numbers.
For more information on hypertension and dietary concerns, speak with your health care physician.