Diet is one of the best ways to lower a high blood pressure. The following 25 foods lower blood pressure, and most also have beneficial effects on cholesterol and glucose control and can help you maintain a healthy weight. Many of these foods are fruit and vegetables, which will also help you achieve your 5-a-day.
Lower your risk of heart attack and stroke
The results from 16 international studies, involving over 833,000 people, shows that each extra portion of fruit you eat per day can reduce your overall risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke by 5%, while each additional portion of vegetables per day reduces these risks by 4% – even after taking other factors such as exercise, smoking, energy intake, education and income into account. By eating 5-a-day, you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 25%.
Although some people advise eating 7 or even 10 portions of fruit or vegetables per day, a study published in the British Medical Journal shows a clear threshold at five servings of fruit and veg a day – eating more did not give any additional health benefits.
Nuts and blood pressure
Eating a handful (about 23 kernels) of unsalted nuts per day can improve coronary heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol balance, blood pressure and blood stickiness. The beneficial effect is so great that substituting just 28g of nut oils per day for the equivalent calories from carbohydrate can reduce your risk of a heart attack by as much as 30%. If you have type 2 diabetes the benefits are even greater with a 44% reduced risk of a heart attack.
Most nuts are a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids. Walnuts, however, are uniquely rich in omega-3s and regular consumption can lower circulating levels of ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol enough to decrease your risk of coronary heart disease by 30% to 50%.
Brazil nuts also have almost miraculous effects on cholesterol at a ‘dose’ of just two to four Brazils per day.
Snack on walnuts, peanuts (technically a legume rather than a nut), pecans, almonds, macadamias and pistachios whenever you fancy. Even though they are relatively high in calories, trials consistently show that their high content of fibre and protein fills you up so you eat less over all during the day. People who regularly eat nuts may even lose weight as a result.
Add nuts to shakes and smoothies, sprinkle them over cereals, salads and desserts, and use nut oils in salad dressings. Brazil, almond, hazelnut or almond nut butters are delicious spread on oatcakes. Avoid any peanut butter that is heavily salted, but dark coated chocolate Brazils are the ultimate blood-pressure lowering medicinal food.
Apples and blood pressure
Apples are one of the richest dietary sources of antioxidant flavonoids. Researchers have found associations between flavonoid intake and a reduced risk of death from all medical causes, especially from heart attack or stroke. In fact, those eating the most apples have a 41% lower risk of a stroke than those eating the least.
When it comes to blood pressure, studies involving over 187,000 health professionals showed that those who ate four or more apples a week had significantly lower blood pressures than those who ate less than one a month, on average.
Aim to eat an apple a day as a snack. You can also grate the flesh and mix with lemon juice (to prevent browning) and add to salads, coleslaw and Bircher muesli. Dried apple rings and apple crisps also make tasty yet healthy snacks.
Avocado and blood pressure
Avocados are an excellent way to obtain healthy mono-unsaturated oils, essential fatty acids, cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, vitamin E and potassium, all of which help to lower blood pressure or have beneficial effects on cholesterol balance.
Enjoying an avocado every day can increase your level of ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol by 11% within just one week, to significantly reduce your risk of a heart attack. Eating avocado also boosts absorption of beneficial nutrients found in other plants eaten at the same time. Eating avocado plus spinach, for example, quadruples your absorption of antioxidants.
Use an avocado slicer to easily remove the flesh from the skin. Then, simply drizzle with walnut or olive oil and eat as a starter. Mash and spread onto oat cakes, or add garlic and olive oil to make guacamole. Add strips to salads and mix with berries for a more interesting fruit cocktail.
Beetroot and blood pressure
Beetroot are one of the best foods for lowering blood pressure due to their high content of nitrates. When beetroot is eaten, these nitrates are almost instantly converted into nitrites by bacteria within your mouth. The nitrates are rapidly absorbed into your circulation and used to make nitric oxide – a cell-signalling molecule which dilates blood vessels so your blood pressure falls.
Drinking 250ml beetroot juice every day, for a month, lowers a raised blood pressure by an average of 7.7/5.2 mmHg – a response that’s at least as good as many prescribed antihypertensive drugs. If that volume is too much for you, then drinking just 70ml beetroot juice a day can reduce your resting blood pressure by 2% – a small but useful effect. The benefits start rapidly, within an hour, reach a maximum over four hours, and are still evident 24 hours later. This prolonged effect could reduce your need for additional medication.
Eating 200g cooked or grated beetroot provides a similar level of nitrates to 500ml beetroot juice. To maximise the conversion of nitrates into nitrites, swill the beetroot juice around your mouth, or chew the root vegetable thoroughly before swallowing.
Boil beetroot whole, in their skins, to avoid losing their medicinal benefits into the cooking water. The root can also be steamed, diced and roasted or juiced. Grate or spiralise raw beetroot for salads.
Concentrated beetroot juice is available for dilution for you daily glass of goodness. Beetroot crisps are also available as a healthy snack.
NB Beetroot’s red, antioxidant pigment, betanin, can cause a temporary, harmless, red discolouration of urine (beeturia) so don’t worry if you notice this effect. Don’t like beetroot? Some people find the taste too earthy, but supplements are available so you don’t miss out on its beneficial medicinal effects.
Blueberries and blood pressure
These awesome dark berries should feature on your menu every day. Rich in polyphenol antioxidants, blueberries can lower blood pressure through an effect similar to ACE inhibitor drugs, by blocking angiotensin converting enzyme.
Blueberries also increase blood levels of nitric oxide, which dilates arteries, for an even greater blood pressure lowering effect.
A study involving 48 postmenopausal women with either high normal blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension found that taking 22g freeze-dried blueberry powder every day for eight weeks reduced blood pressure by 7/5mmHg compared with placebo – a result that is as good as some antihypertensive drugs.
Add blueberries to yoghurt, muesli, fromage-frais, fruit salads, smoothies and shakes or eat them by the handful as a snack.
Broccoli and blood pressure
Good intakes of calcium are associated with lower blood pressure which is where broccoli comes into its own. As much as 61% of the calcium found in broccoli is absorbed from the gut, compared with only 32% of calcium in milk – although the reason remains unknown.
Studies involving over 187,000 health professionals have shown that those who ate four or more servings of broccoli a week have significantly lower blood pressures than those who eat less than one serving a month.
Eat broccoli raw in salads, or only lightly steamed or stir-fried. It makes a great soup, too.
Spinach and blood pressure
Spinach is one of the best dietary sources of the folate, plus antioxidant carotenoids that help to reduce hardening and furring up of the arteries.
Spinach is also rich in nitrates and at least four peptides with the ability to inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) for a powerful blood pressure lowering effect.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trials showed that you can significantly reduce your blood pressure within eight weeks by eating more fruit and veg, of which spinach is key.
Eat the leaves raw or only lightly steamed (wilted) as an accompaniment to any meal. Baby leaves are great in salads and you can also add them to home-made juices and smoothies – you won’t taste the difference but will obtain the benefits.
Cherries and blood pressure
Cherries provide antioxidant polyphenols, with the highest quantities found in the darkest, blackest cherries and in sour cherries.
Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that drinking 500ml of a polyphenol-rich juice, based on cherries, red grapes, chokeberries and bilberries, can lower systolic blood pressure by around 7mmHg. The greatest effect occurred in those with hypertension compared to those with a normal blood pressure.
Eat fresh cherries as a snack and add to yoghurt, muesli, fruit salads and other desserts. Use stoned cherries in fruit juices and smoothies, too.
Dark chocolate and blood pressure
Chocolate and cocoa are such a rich source of flavonoids that, gram for gram, dark chocolate provides five times more antioxidant activity than blueberries.
Results from 20 studies, involving 856 people, show that drinking flavanol-rich cocoa for two to 18 weeks can lower blood pressure by 2.8/2.2mmHg compared with a flavanol-free equivalent. Other studies found that cocoa drinkers were half as likely to die of cardiovascular disease (or any other illness) during a 15 year follow-up.
Eating dark chocolate provides similar benefits. In fact, there is clear evidence that eating one hundred grams of dark chocolate (at least 70% polyphenols) every day can reduce systolic blood pressure by 5.1 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 1.8 mmHg – enough to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke by an average of 21%. Pretty impressive for something that tastes so delicious and is usually considered a treat!
Interestingly, flavanol-rich chocolate does not appear to reduce average blood pressure significantly once your blood pressure is at a ‘normal’ level of below 140 mmHg systolic or 80 mmHg diastolic.
Eat 50g – 100g daily of very dark chocolate (unless watching your weight in which case take calorie count into consideration). Drinking unsweetened cocoa is beneficial, too.
Coconut water and blood pressure
Coconut water also provides medium chain fatty acids which aid the absorption of calcium and magnesium, and have beneficial effects on liver function, reducing the production of inflammatory chemicals that would otherwise cause blood pressure to rise.
When people with hypertension were asked to drink coconut water every day for two weeks, their blood pressure reduced significantly more than a similar group who drank plain bottled water. The largest reductions in average blood pressure were 24mmHg for systolic BP and 15 mmHg for diastolic BP.
Coconut water is widely available, but check labels and only select those that are 100% pure with no added sugar.
Figs and blood pressure
Figs are an important component of the Mediterranean diet and are a rich source of fibre which helps to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol balance.
Gram for gram, dried figs contain more calcium than milk and are also good sources of potassium, magnesium, carotenoids and polyphenol antioxidants all of which are beneficial for blood pressure control.
Eat fresh or dried figs as a healthy, energy-rich snack.
Grapefruit and blood pressure
Grapefruit are an excellent source of antioxidants, including vitamin C and the flavonoids, naringin and narirutin.
Red grapefruit has a higher antioxidant content than blond grapefruit, and has twice as much blood pressure regulating and cholesterol-lowering activity.
A study involving 74 overweight adults showed that eating just half a fresh Rio-Red grapefruit with each meal (3× daily) for 6 weeks was associated with modest weight loss of 0.61kg, a significant reduction in waist circumference of 2.45cm, and a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure of 3.21mmHg compared to those who did not eat grapefruit every day.
Drinking 500ml daily of juice from the Sweetie, (a cross between grapefruit and pumelo), was also found to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension from an average of 142/89 mmHg down to 136/81 mmHg after five weeks – a reduction of 6/8mmHg which is as good a result as that achieved with some prescribed medication.
Eat grapefruit as a starter; add to fruit salads and use to make freshly squeezed juice.
NB Grapefruit interferes with the metabolism of some drugs, including statins and some anti-hypertensives medicines. These effects can last for three days or more. Check the patient information leaflet supplied with your drugs, or ask a pharmacist about interactions before adding grapefruit or its juice to your diet.
Grapes and blood pressure
Drinking red grape juice daily (at a dose of 5.5ml per kg body weight so, for example, 385ml if you weigh 70kg) can reduce blood pressure by an average of 7.2/6.2 mmHg within 8 weeks.
Eat a handful of grapes per day, or drink a glass of red grape juice.
When buying grape juice, make sure it is unsweetened.
Drinking a glass of red wine daily also provides health benefits but do not exceed recommended alcohol intakes or benefits are lost.
Green or black tea and blood pressure
Over 30% of the dry weight of tea leaves consists of powerful flavonoid antioxidants with beneficial effects on blood pressure, blood stickiness and cholesterol balance. Green tea has a more pronounced action than black tea, but both are worthwhile.
The risk of hypertension is 46% lower in those drinking 120-599ml green tea per day, and 65% lower in those drinking 600ml per day or more, compared with non-tea drinkers. Similarly, drinking four cups of tea per day can halve your risk of a heart attack, while the incidence of stroke is halved in people who drink at least five cups of green tea per day compared with those who drink none.
Results from 25 studies, involving 1476 people, showed that drinking a single cup of green or black tea has no immediate effects on blood pressure, but regular intakes for more than 12 weeks lowered blood pressure by around 2·6/2·2 mmHg – a small but meaningful effect.
Enjoy tea as a refreshing drink throughout the day. Use left-over cold tea to soak dried fruit, as a base for sauces, soups or stews, and use matcha green tea powder or to make ice cream. For those who don’t like the taste of green tea, supplements are available.
Avoid adding sugar to your tea, as having unsweetened drinks helps to protect against diabetes.
Guava and blood pressure
Guava is one of the richest dietary sources of vitamin C, providing as much as 230mg per 100g of fruit. It is also an excellent source of antioxidant carotenoids, potassium and soluble fibre.
A study involving 145 people with hypertension found that eating 0.5-1.0 kg of guava per day for four weeks reduced blood pressure by 7.5/8.5 mmHg compared with a similar group who did not eat guava.
Improvements in blood fat levels also occurred, with total cholesterol and triglycerides falling by 7% or more, and ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol increasing by 4.6%.
Other researchers have found that eating five or more guavas a day for three months reduced blood pressure by 9.0/8.0 mmHg.
Eat guava for breakfast, add to fruit salads, drink the juice or add to smoothies. When buying guava juice, make sure it is unsweetened.
Mango and blood pressure
Mangoes are an excellent source of antioxidant carotenoids, with some varieties providing as much as 3g carotenoid pigments per 100g flesh. They are also a good source of potassium, vitamin C and vitamin E.
Mango extracts reduce blood pressure by blocking the effects of a stress hormone (noradrenaline) which causes arteries to constrict. This makes mango a particularly useful snack when you are feeling stressed.
Eat fresh mango on its own, in fruit salads, or salsas. Dried mango also makes a delicious, healthy snack.
Drink mango juice, too, but check labels and only select those with no added sugar.
Papaya and blood pressure
Papaya is a tropical tree fruit whose orange-red flesh is packed full of lycopene, an antioxidant carotenoid pigment. This lycopene is up to six times more readily absorbed than the lycopene found in raw tomatoes as in the papaya the pigments are stored within liquid, crystal-like structures.
Papaya also provides vitamin C, B group vitamins and minerals such as calcium and magnesium. It is also a well-known source of papain, a protease enzyme that breaks down protein to aid its digestion and absorption.
Research suggests that papaya extracts contain substances with both alpha-blocker and ACE inhibitor activity which are under investigation as potential new antihypertensive drugs. Early results suggest it is potentially more effective than the antihypertensive drug, hydralazine.
Eat fresh papaya on its own, in fruit salads, or salsas.
Papaya seeds taste like peppercorns and can be dried and ground in a peppermill to make a healthy, spicy seasoning.
Mushrooms and blood pressure
Mushrooms provide potassium, selenium and are also one of the few plant sources of vitamin D (in the form known as D2) which they synthesise when exposed to sunlight. Mushrooms are also unexpectedly high in antioxidants.
Although not classed as a vegetable, mushrooms count towards your 5-a-day goal, with 80g, or about four medium-sized mushrooms, making up one portion.
Some edible mushrooms (eg oyster mushrooms, enoki, porcini, reishi and maitake) have been found to lower BP by blocking the action of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) in a similar way to prescribed ACE inhibitors.
Mushrooms are surprisingly filling thanks to their fibre content and are a good choice when watching your weight. Substituting white button mushrooms for beef in familiar dishes such as lasagne, for example, can halve the calories but provide the same volume and filling power. Doing this ten times would help you lose one pound of fat. Doing it once a week for a year could help you lose 5lb in weight
Slice mushrooms raw into salads, sauté in olive oil with garlic, parboil in bouillon, make into soups, or stuff and bake in the oven. Reishi and Maitake are also available as supplements.
Oats and blood pressure
Oats are an excellent source of a type of cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre, called beta glucan, plus B group vitamins.
Eating one bowl of oatmeal a day can reduce LDL- cholesterol by 8 to 23 percent and, in people with hypertension, can eating oat cereal daily can reduce blood pressure by 7.5/5.5 mmHg over six weeks. This effect is at least as good as most prescribed antihypertensive medications.
Have porridge for breakfast, add rolled oats to yogurt, make home-made unsweetened muesli and eat oatcakes as a snack with nut or seed butters.
Oily fish and blood pressure
Oily fish provide rich quantities of omega-3 long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) plus vitamins A, D and E.
These omega-3 fish oils help to maintain a regular heartbeat, reduce blood stickiness and play an important role in regulating blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Eating fish once a week can reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke. A high intake (greater than 3g omega-3 fish oils daily as supplements) can lower blood pressure by around 2/2 mmHg but tends to cause minor side effects such as belching.
The range of oily fish available includes: Anchovies (unsalted), Bloater, Cacha, Carp, Eel, Herring, Hilsa, Jack fish, Katla, Kipper, Mackerel, Orange Roughy, Pangas, Pilchards, Salmon, Sardines, Sprats, Swordfish, Trout, Tuna (fresh, not tinned) and Whitebait.
Eat very fresh fish, either raw (Japanese sushi, sashimi), grilled, steamed or baked rather than deep-fried.
To reduce exposure to possible deep-sea pollutants such as mercury and dioxins, recommended intakes are limited to once or twice a week for girls and women who are, or may become, pregnant at some time. Everyone else can eat oily fish up to four times a week.
Pharmaceutical grade omega-3 fish oil supplements are a great alternative as they are checked to ensure they are free from pollutants.
Olive oil and blood pressure
Olive oil is a concentrated source of monounsaturated fats such as oleic acid, and antioxidants such as vitamin E, carotenoids and polyphenols such as oleocanthal. These are most concentrated in extra virgin olive oil.
Adding 30mg (around 2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil to the daily diet of women with high normal blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension, their blood pressure fell by 7.91/6.65 mmHg within 8 weeks, compared to a similar period when they consumed olive oil from which the antioxidant polyphenols were removed.
Other studies show that consuming 30g to 40g olive oil per day almost halves the need for anti-hypertensive drugs over a six month period. When effects on cholesterol balance are also taken into account, a diet rich in olive oil reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 25% and the risk of a second heart attack by 56%.
Use plain olive oil for cooking. Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil in salad dressings and for drizzling on food, and with bread.
NB Olive oil antioxidants are reduced when stored in glass bottles exposed to light. A bottle can lose 40% of its antioxidant oleocanthal within the average usage time of ten months. Select olive oil in dark coloured glass or tins designed to prolong the health benefits, instead.
Pomegranates and blood pressure
Pomegranates are one of the best dietary sources of antioxidant polyphenols, including a unique form known as punicalagin. They also supply vitamins C, E and carotenoids.
In a group of people with hypertension, drinking as little as 50ml pomegranate juice, twice per day, reduced systolic blood pressure by 5% (equivalent to 8mmHg if your systolic is 160mmHg) by blocking the activity of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). Drinking a glass of pomegranate juice every day also lowers LDL-cholesterol and can improve arterial stiffness.
Look for pomegranate juice drinks, or juice your own. Add pomegranate seeds to salads.
Cutting a fruit in half and picking out the seeds to eat with a blunt pin is a relaxing, therapeutic activity.
Pumpkin seeds and blood pressure
Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil are a great source of vitamin E, zinc, and cholesterol-lowering beta-sitosterol. They help to boost the action of two groups of antihypertensive drugs: calcium channel blockers and ACE-inhibitors.
As well as helping to achieve better blood pressure control, pumpkin seeds may also help to slow the age-related progression of hypertension.
Enjoy a handful as a snack or sprinkle onto salads, cereals and muesli mixes. You can grind pumpkin seeds and add them to shakes or smoothies. If you roast the seeds and combine with nuts, you also have an instant blood pressure friendly snack (but don’t add salt).
Soy beans and blood pressure
Soy beans contain isoflavones, a class of plant hormones which, when eaten, are converted into weak oestrogens by intestinal bacteria. These interact with oestrogen receptors within the circulation to dilate coronary arteries, reduce arterial stiffness, lower blood pressure, reduce blood stickiness and platelet clumping as well as lowering ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol.
In people with hypertension, consuming 40g soybean protein per day can reduce blood pressure by an average of 7.88/5.27 mmHg within 12 weeks. In people with high normal blood pressure, it can reduce readings by 2.34/1.28 mmHg which may help to prevent progression to a diagnosis of hypertension.
Use soybeans in soups, stews, stir fries. Try products rich in soybean protein such as tofu, and vegetarian meals – but check their salt content. Add soybean protein powder to shakes, and include soy milk and yogurts in your diet.
Edamame – the Japanese term for ‘stem beans’ are green, immature soybeans – picked before they ripen – that are eaten raw, boiled or steamed. If selecting these in Asian restaurants, ask for them to be served without added salt.
Live bio yogurt and blood pressure
The probiotic bacteria are also beneficial as they can inhibit angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) to lower blood pressure. When eating soy isoflavones, certain types of intestinal bacteria can convert them on to a stronger version known as equol that provides even greater benefits.
Add live bio yogurt to breakfast cereals, stir into cool soups and smoothies, use in salad dressings. Aim to eat a small carton per day, or consider taking a probiotic supplement.
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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