High Blood Pressure Diet
What Is It, Foods to Eat, Salt Intake, and More
Author:Anna Hernández, MD
Editors:Alyssa Haag,Emily Miao, PharmD,Kelsey LaFayette, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C
Illustrator:Jessica Reynolds, MS
Copyeditor:Stacy M. Johnson, LMSW
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition where the force of blood against arterial blood vessels is persistently elevated. High blood pressure affects millions of people worldwide. It is a severe medical condition that can lead to life-threatening complications, including stroke, heart attack, peripheral artery disease, and chronic kidney disease.
Blood pressure is defined by two measurements: systolic and diastolic pressures. Systolic pressure represents the pressure exerted by the heart when it contracts, while diastolic pressure is the pressure exerted on blood vessels when the heart relaxes. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and the readings are always given in pairs, with the systolic pressure first followed by the diastolic pressure. For most adults, normal blood pressure at rest is within the range of 100-120 mmHg for systolic pressure and 60-80 mmHg for diastolic pressure. High blood pressure is typically diagnosed if the resting blood pressure is persistently above 130/80 mmHg, based on the most recent American and European guidelines.
High blood pressure is generally not accompanied by symptoms, which is why it is often referred to as the “silent killer.” Instead, high blood pressure gradually causes wear and tear on the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels, increasing the risk of end-organ damage over time. Though hypertension doesn’t typically cause symptoms, individuals may develop hypertensive crises, which are episodes of extremely high blood pressure (i.e., greater than 180/120, with end-organ damage) that might involve confusion, visual disturbances, chest pain, or breathlessness.
The first choice for the treatment of hypertension is lifestyle changes, including dietary changes, exercise, and stress reduction techniques. In addition, various antihypertensive medications may be given in cases where lifestyle changes are not enough to control blood pressure.
What is a high blood pressure diet?
A high-blood pressure diet is an eating plan that can help prevent or control high blood pressure. One of the most popular high blood pressure diets is DASH—Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This eating plan contains foods rich in nutrients that are associated with lowering blood pressure, mainly potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber. It also contains fewer added sugars and saturated fats, the main contributors to weight gain and obesity. Following a healthy eating plan, like DASH, can offer additional health benefits, such as lowering LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
How does a high blood pressure diet help high blood pressure?
Considering risk factors for high blood pressure include old age, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and salt-heavy diets, lifestyle changes such as eating a high blood pressure diet, regular physical activity, and reducing alcohol consumption can help individuals reduce their blood pressure without the need for taking any medications.
What foods are best on a high blood pressure diet?
A high blood pressure diet typically includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Fruits and vegetables may be consumed fresh or frozen, either raw or cooked (e.g., steamed, boiled, grilled). A high blood pressure diet includes healthy protein sources, such as lean meats, poultry, eggs, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Healthy fats and vegetable oils, like avocado and olive oil, may also be consumed in moderation.
What foods should be avoided on a high blood pressure diet?
A high blood pressure diet limits the intake of sweets, added sugars, and saturated fats, including pies, baked goods, candy bars, ice cream, fruit juice, and other sugary drinks (e.g., sports, energy, and soft drinks). Fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, palm oils, and other low-nutritional foods, like processed foods and alcoholic beverages, may also be avoided.
In addition to a healthy diet, individuals with high blood pressure are advised to limit their salt intake to less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, which can be achieved by eating less packaged or processed foods, which are the main source of added salt in today’s diet. It is important to read food labels to choose foods that are lower in sodium, as salt is added to the manufacturing process of all sorts of foods, including bread, cereals, sandwiches, cured meats, canned soups, savory snacks, cheese, and salad dressings, among many others. As a general rule, foods that contain less than 0.3 grams of salt (or 0.1 grams of sodium) per 100 grams are considered low in sodium, whereas foods with over 1.5 grams of salt (or 0.6 grams of sodium) per 100 grams have a high sodium content and should be best avoided.Tips to reduce salt intake include choosing low or no-salt-added versions of food when available; using spices or citric instead of salt to season the food; choosing fresh or frozen vegetables instead of their canned versions; rinsing canned foods to remove some of the added sodium; using fresh meat and fish rather than canned, smoked, or processed types; and cutting down on take-out and pre-made foods, such as pizza, frozen dinners and packaged dinners as these often have a high amount of sodium.
What are the most important facts about a high blood pressure diet?
High blood pressure is a serious medical condition that significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage over time. A healthy diet plan like DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which includes fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins, and foods lower in sodium, can help prevent and control high blood pressure. Additional lifestyle changes, such as being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption, are also recommended, as they all contribute to reducing blood pressure and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In addition, a variety of antihypertensive medications might also be given in some cases.
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Resources for research and reference
Bakris G, Ali W, Parati G, et al. ACC/AHA Versus ESC/ESH on Hypertension Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019 Jun, 73 (23) 3018–3026. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2019.03.507
Hypertension. (n.d.). Who.int. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hypertension
Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH. (2006). Nih.gov. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/new_dash.pdf
Mente, A., O’Donnell, M., & Yusuf, S. (2021). Based on the current evidence, sodium intake and health: What should we recommend? Nutrients, 13(9), 3232. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13093232U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.