According to the World Health Organization, more than one in three adults has raised blood pressure. 1 in 3 is a pretty confronting statistic, especially when you think about what high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) can lead to: heart attack and stroke. The good news is, a few simple dietary changes can have a huge impact on blood pressure and I’m going to give you the best tips to get started in this article.
So what’s considered high and what do those numbers actually mean?
When we get our blood pressure taken, we get a reading like 110/80 or “110 over 80”. The 110 is our systolic pressure which is the the pressure exerted on our artery walls when the heart pumps. The 80 is the diastolic pressure which is the pressure exerted when the heart is at rest (ie in between pumps).
According to the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia, there aren’t any set figures for diagnosing high blood pressure, which leave it open to interpretation by your doctor. But according to common practice, you can use the following figures as a guide:
- Normal blood pressure is below 120/80
- Prehypertension is between 120/80 – 139/89
- Stage 1 hypertension is between 140/90 – 159/99
- Stage 2 hypertension is above 160/100.
What’s the cause of high blood pressure?
Hypertension is a lifestyle disease. It’s the result of a mismatch between our genes and the way we live our lives, including what we eat, our social habits such as drinking and smoking, our high stress society and our chronic lack of sleep and movement – all things that we have the power to change!
The Dietary Route
If you have high blood pressure, you can go down one of two paths. You can take medication that might help treat the symptom, or you can make dietary and lifestyle changes that address the root cause of the issue. If there’s anything you should be putting into your body, in my opinion, it’s healthier food, not pills! So, let’s go through the dietary basics:
Sugar & Refined Carbs
Everyone is banging on about sugar for a reason. This study shows that an increased consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages has been associated with high blood pressure and that by reducing our intake, we can lower blood pressure. This study shows similar findings.
If you have high blood pressure you need to dramatically reduce or eliminate sweets. Keep a close eye on your refined carbohydrate intake too, as these affect your blood sugar levels in a very similar way to sugar.
One of the essential minerals for keeping our blood pressure in check is Potassium. This meta analysis took an in depth look at 19 clinical trials assessing the role of potassium on blood pressure concluded that “an increase in potassium intake should be included in the recommendations for a non-pharmacological approach”.
Unfortunately, the standard Australian diet is typically low in potassium, so if you have high blood pressure I suggest you increase the foods listed below which are naturally high in potassium:
Cooked and cooled potatoes, spinach, beet greens, silverbeet/swiss chard, sweet potatoes, wild Atlantic salmon, avocadoes, button mushrooms, banana’s, tomato paste (be sure to check for added sugar!), natural yoghurt.
Magnesium is another mineral that has been shown to naturally lower blood pressure, although to a lower extent than potassium. Together, these two minerals make a great team to lower blood pressure!
Foods high in magnesium – Nuts (not peanuts which are actually a legume), spinach, seeds, mackerel, beet greens, and dark chocolate (aim for at least 85%)
Cold Water Fish
A wonderful source of EPA and DHA, which are shown to be very effective at reducing blood pressure. Eating cold water fish 3 times a weeks is just as effective as taking a daily high-potency fish oil supplement (plus you get all the co-factors contained in this whole foods option that you miss out on when choose to supplement).
Good sources of DHA – Wild Alaskan salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, anchovies and mackerel.
We have long been told that high salt diets will raise our blood pressure. But, there are also studies like this one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which show that stroke, heart attack and death are more likely to occur in people with a low salt diet. So let straighten this one out:
The white table salt you buy from the supermarket is processed crap and should be avoided, as is the ‘added salt’ that comes in processed foods. On the other hand, unrefined sea salt or Himalayan salt are a very different product and I think these are fine, if your adding them to the meal yourself. The thing is, if you’re adding salt to your own plate, you’re not going to add tablespoons of the stuff, but when it’s the hidden and masked in highly processed foods, that’s when your intake can become excessive.
In summary, here is the dietary approach to lowering your blood pressure:
Reduce your sugar & refined carbs intake dramatically, increase magnesium, potassium, EPA & DHA. Use real sea salt or pink Himalayan rock salt for your meals and avoid processed foods high in added salt.
So tell me, do you or a loved one suffer from high BP and do these diet recommendations seem achievable?