While the words “blood pressure-lowering diet” may conjure images of unseasoned egg whites and limp steamed veggies, getting your blood pressure into a healthy range is more than just doable —it can be downright delicious. Start by adding the Eat This, Not That!-approved list of blood pressure-lowering foods into your regular routine and watch your numbers go from scary to stellar in no time.
Eat dark chocolate. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are both full of heart-healthy plant compounds called flavonoids. Flavonoids are good for you because they cause your blood vessels to dilate, which can help lower blood pressure. Just make sure your chocolate doesn’t have too much sugar. Choose chocolate that is at least 70 percent dark for best results. You can buy individually wrapped chocolate pieces that are the perfect size. Eat one or two a day and enjoy the delicious heart-protective effects.
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If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to make changes to your diet or if you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to consider working with a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN). Some people work with an RDN if they have a health condition like type 2 diabetes. In fact, high blood pressure is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. This is partly because they share similar modifiable risk factors, like being overweight or obese, following an unhealthy diet, and having a lack of physical activity.
A healthy blood pressure is in the range 90/50 to 120/80. Blood pressure varies throughout the day and your levels of physical exertion and stress cause it to change, too. So blood pressure should be checked under resting conditions. Single measurements aren’t particularly meaningful. A diagnosis of high blood pressure (hypertension) isn’t normally made unless a high reading is measured on three separate occasions – usually over three months.
According to the CDC, a whopping 75 million Americans—that’s nearly 1/3 of the adult population—are struggling with high blood pressure, increasing their risk of heart attack, stroke, and other life-altering health consequences along the way. Skipping the salt and squeezing in some regular workouts can help keep your blood pressure from reaching dangerous levels, but it takes a more proactive approach to keep your blood pressure under control in the long run.
Caffeine can raise blood pressure by tightening blood vessels and magnifying the effects of stress, says James Lane, PhD, a Duke University researcher who studies caffeine and cardiovascular health. "When you're under stress, your heart starts pumping a lot more blood, boosting blood pressure," he says. "And caffeine exaggerates that effect." (Not sure whether you need to cut back? Here are 6 physical symptoms that mean you're drinking too much coffee.)
If your blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower, it’s considered normal. Generally, if the blood pressure reading is under 90/60 mm Hg, it is abnormally low and is referred to as hypotension. Some adults regularly have a blood pressure in the hypotensive range, but have no symptoms at all and do not require treatment. In serious cases, though, hypotension can result in a decreased supply of oxygen and nutrients to your brain, which can eventually lead to life-threatening shock.
When a blood pressure reading is taken, the higher number represents the systolic pressure and the lower number represents the diastolic pressure. For example: 120/80 (120 over 80) in an adult means that the systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80. As kids grow, their blood pressure increases from a systolic pressure of about 70–90 (as babies) to adult values (when they're teens).
Eat berries. Berries have many health benefits, and one of them is improving blood pressure and reducing other heart disease risks. Berries, like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, have lots of polyphenols, which are great for your heart. They’re also really tasty. So, load up on the berries for better blood pressure. If you don’t like eating them all the time, try adding them to a smoothie made with low-fat or fat-free yogurt without added sugar. Throw in some ice, banana, and low-fat milk for a heart-healthy treat.
2. Take an omega-3 oil. Omega 6:3 ratio is important. A lot of us get way too much omega-6 in our diets, which is what's caused the omega-3 craze. Refined vegetable oil is one of the main culprits, and found in almost all processed foods, and even some orange juices. Because we have way too much omega-6 in our systems, we need to compensate by taking some form of omega-3 oil. Decreasing your intake of processed foods will have a similar effect.
What these scientists found was that while drug treatments for mild hypertension may be effective at lowering blood pressure, they were not effective in reducing overall mortality. Put more bluntly, hypertension patients in these studies died at about the same rate whether they took medication or not. These findings reaffirm an important health principle: Treating the symptoms of disease is not the same thing as causing health.
Some of these drugs may decrease your body's supply of the mineral potassium. Symptoms such as weakness, leg cramps or being tired may result. Eating foods containing potassium may help prevent significant potassium loss. If your doctor recommends it, you could prevent potassium loss by taking a liquid or tablet that has potassium along with the diuretic. Diuretics such as amiloride (Midamar)*, spironolactone (Aldactone)* or triamterene (Dyrenium)* are called "potassium sparing" agents. They don't cause the body to lose potassium. They might be prescribed alone, but are usually used with another diuretic. Some of these combinations are Aldactazide*, Dyazide*, Maxzide* or Moduretic*.
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, however most heart attacks start slowly with mild pain and discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Shortness of breath may occur, as well as nausea, or lightheadedness. It is vital to get help immediately if any of these symptoms occur.
Hypertensive Crisis This is an occurrence of high blood pressure that requires medical attention. If you have a blood pressure reading of 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If it is consistently this high, contact your doctor immediately. If blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness and weakness, change in vision, and difficulty speaking, you may have organ damage and should call 911. (4)
Don’t deprive yourself of dessert just because you’re eager to get your blood pressure under control. A little dark chocolate can go a long way when it comes to lowering those numbers, thanks to its flavonoid content. Flavonoids, a type of plant-based pigment, have been linked to reductions in blood pressure, thanks to their ability to improve endothelial function, according to researchers at the University of Manitoba. Just make sure you’re choosing real dark chocolate for the biggest benefit; foods high in sugar, like most milk chocolate bars, have been linked to an increase in blood pressure by researchers at the New Zealand University of Otago. Reduce your risk of chronic disease even further by discovering and ditching the worst habits for heart health ASAP.
Making some stuffed peppers for dinner tonight could be the first step on a journey toward a healthier heart and lower blood pressure. Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, with more of the potent antioxidant than even citrus fruits, which has been shown to improve cardiac function and lower blood pressure. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that loading up on vitamin C reduced blood pressure by 5 millimeters of mercury in patients with hypertension, making these versatile veggies a smart addition to any meal plan.
Headaches strike over 90% of adults each year. You may be able to wait out some and let them pass, but others may be a sign that your body is asking you to take action. There is a chance that your headache could be a symptom of high blood pressure. If there are no other causes of your headache, you should ask your healthcare provider about getting your blood pressure checked.
When discussing blood pressure issues, the healthcare professional may ask questions about past medical history, family history, and medication use, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and food additives. Other questions may include lifestyle habits, including activity levels, smoking, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use.
2. Take the right nutrients. Talk with your chiropractor or other healthcare professional about the wide range of well-studied nutrients that, along with dietary and lifestyle modifications, can help normalize your blood pressure. One meta-analysis found magnesium supplements could lower blood pressure. Likewise, researchers find a small but significant decline in blood pressure for people with hypertension who use fish oil. (You can get all of fish oil’s benefits combined with anti-inflammatory flax oil and GLA in our Optimal Omega.)