Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a sneaky condition that often goes unnoticed. Unless you get your blood pressure checked, you may not even know you have hypertension. So why is it so important to prevent high blood pressure? When undiagnosed, high blood pressure can be damaging to the vital organs.
While nearly half of American adults have hypertension, only 1 in 4 of them have it under control. Hypertension is the leading cause of stroke and contributes to heart attacks, heart failure, and kidney damage.1
When many of us think of high blood pressure, we often place the blame directly on our sodium intake. While sodium absolutely plays a role, there is even more to preventing hypertension than sodium alone!
What is Hypertension?
So what is hypertension? Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure. It is perfectly normal for blood pressure to change throughout the day depending on activity levels, however, having a blood pressure reading higher than normal on a consistent basis is what can lead to a diagnosis of hypertension.1
The arteries are what carry blood from your heart to other areas of your body and blood pressure is simply your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. When this pressure is consistently elevated, it can damage the heart and lead to health problems such as stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, and kidney damage.
How can diet impact hypertension?
When it comes to preventing and managing hypertension, there isn’t a specific food that can help, but instead it is really about the overall eating pattern. Studies have consistently shown that eating patterns such as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet can help lower the blood pressure of people with hypertension. Additionally, eating this way can help prevent hypertension.2
What both the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet have in common is the variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and most importantly, the focus on whole foods. They also both limit alcohol, added sugars, and saturated fat. The DASH diet places an added focus on reducing sodium intake. Some of the important nutrients in these eating patterns that help lower blood pressure are fiber, potassium, and reduced sodium.
Fiber: Increasing fiber intake has been shown to help lower blood pressure in people with an elevated blood pressure.3 The standard American diet often neglects the inclusion of fiber-rich foods, therefore even getting the recommended amount of fiber per day was shown to have some improvements. This is 25g for women and 38g for men.
Potassium: Potassium can help reduce pressure on the arterial walls, which in turn can lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that a diet lacking in potassium can increase the risk of hypertension and furthermore, stroke. The recommended amount of potassium per day is 4,700 mg.4
Sodium: Limiting sodium, or salt, has been shown to decrease the risk of hypertension and also lower elevated blood pressure. This means aiming for 1500-2300mg of sodium per day. That number may seem high, but the standard American diet often includes an average of 3400mg of sodium per day! You can lower your sodium intake by simply reducing the amount of added salt when cooking, choosing lower sodium options, and limiting highly processed foods.
While what you eat is absolutely important, there are additional lifestyle factors that have a large impact on your blood pressure levels.
Reduce Smoking: Smoking can actually raise blood pressure levels and in turn cause a higher risk for hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks. If you are someone that smokes, quitting can help lower this risk. Talk with your medical provider for suggestions to help you through that process.
Limit Alcohol: Drinkingalcohol can also increase your blood pressure. If you frequently consume alcohol, aim to limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and no more than 1 drink per day for women.
Adequate Sleep: Sleep is often underrated when it comes to your overall health. Not only getting enough sleep, but also adequate sleep is vital for heart health. Not getting enough sleep is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night!
Movement: Physical activity is another vital part of managing blood pressure levels. It is recommended that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week. This could include walking, swimming, biking, or whatever you enjoy most!5
Eating for YOUR Heart Health
Although the science presented in this blog post has been proven over the years through reputable studies, trials, and reports, nothing can tell you how to eat for your bio-individuality like a personalized DNA report. Discover which foods are right for your body and learn how to tailor your diet to your custom, genetics-based needs in our article, "How Do You Know Which Foods Are Right for Your Body?"
Didn't have time to read the whole article? Here’s what you need to know. As heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, including heart-healthy foods in your diet can help support your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease. These foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Aim for a wide variety of foods in order to set yourself up for success!
“High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 May 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm#:~:text=High%20blood%20pressure%2C%20also%20called,blood%20pressure%20(or%20hypertension).
“Beating High Blood Pressure with Food - Harvard Health Publishing.” Harvard Health, 23 Aug. 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/beating-high-blood-pressure-with-food.
Streppel MT, Arends LR, van ’t Veer P, Grobbee DE, Geleijnse JM. Dietary Fiber and Blood Pressure: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trials. Arch Intern Med. 2005;165(2):150–156. doi:10.1001/archinte.165.2.150
“Potassium Lowers Blood Pressure.” Harvard Health, 23 Jan. 2017, https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/potassium-lowers-blood-pressure.
5. “Prevent High Blood Pressure.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Feb. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/prevent.htm.