Blood pressure control is among the most important health targets you can aim for. That’s because high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Unchecked hypertension increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Together, these potentially disastrous events account for the majority of deaths among Americans.
The American Heart Association revealed new lower blood pressure targets in November 2017, underscoring the importance of monitoring and controlling one’s blood pressure. Adults should aspire to 120/80 mmHg, or lower. Previously, adults with moderate hypertension were considered to be doing well if their top (systolic) pressure remained under 140 mmHg. The target for these patients is now 130 mmHg, or lower.
Numerous drugs can be prescribed to control blood pressure. But for patients with borderline to moderate hypertension, lifestyle changes are still first-line therapy: Move more, get more exercise, lose weight, get adequate sleep, and eat a healthful, plant-based diet.
Salt and Blood Pressure
Table salt—sodium chloride—has been linked to hypertension among people who happen to be “salt sensitive”. Accordingly, one important recommendation is to decrease your intake of salt. Packaged and convenience foods tend to be highly salted. One advantage of cooking whole foods from scratch is the ability to control the salt content of food.
Dietary salt may boost blood pressure, but the cardiovascular system uses other minerals, such as magnesium and potassium, to counterbalance its effects. For this reason, foods naturally high in potassium and magnesium are especially heart-healthy.
Other foods—such as beets, arugula, and spinach—are especially high in nutrients called nitrates. These compounds are converted in the body into nitric oxide (NO), a simple chemical with an important role in controlling blood pressure.
To help get you started on a more heart-healthy, blood-pressure-friendly diet, we’ve assembled this list of foods, which excel at encouraging normal blood pressure.
No other superfood delivers more dramatic blood pressure benefits than raw beets. Studies have shown that people with mild to moderate blood pressure—but not those with normal blood pressure—experience a significant, beneficial drop in blood pressure within hours of drinking fresh beet juice, for instance. This is largely attributed to the presence of dietary nitrates. But a recent analysis suggests there may be other components in beet juice—presumably antioxidant compounds—which also affect blood pressure in a beneficial manner.
Spinach has a reputation for supplying dietary iron to support healthy red blood cells, but what’s often overlooked is its excellent dietary nitrate profile. Recent research confirmed that spinach significantly lowers blood pressure when consumed in a “spinach beverage”. Presumably, those who prefer to eat their spinach in a salad may also benefit from eating this superfood.
Also know as salad rocket, this trendy leafy green is rich in dietary nitrates. A recent study showed that a beverage made from arugula significantly raised blood levels of heart-healthy nitrates and nitrites, and lowered systolic (top number) blood pressure by an average of 6 points. This prompted investigators to write, in The Journal of Nutrition, “…nitrate-rich vegetables can be used as dietary nitrate supplements.”
This ancient fruit with the ruby-red arils bursting with tart red juice has long been associated with health. And with good reason. Research suggests pomegranate juice contains potent antioxidant compounds that directly benefit the cardiovascular system, by supporting the health of the endothelium; the delicate tissue that lines our blood vessels. Pomegranate is also associated with significant blood pressure-lowering effects. Pomegranate appears to reduce the inflammation that may result in atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Peaches, Nectarines and Bananas
Foods that supply significant quantities of the essential minerals magnesium, potassium and calcium help keep blood pressure in check by counterbalancing the pressure-raising effects of dietary sodium. These foods are all relatively high in dietary potassium, a mineral linked to lower blood pressure.
Other BP-Lowering Foods
Kale, white beans, plain yogurt, and kiwi are all excellent sources of various nutrients, such as vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber. Fish (e.g. sustainably farmed tilapia or salmon) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients help quell inflammation in the body, among other important benefits.