High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is called the “silent epidemic.” That’s because so many people have it but it rarely shows any warning signs or symptoms. It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking out for it.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), almost half of the adults in the US have hypertension and most don’t have it under control. February is American Heart Month and this is a great time to take a moment to review some simple foods that you can add to your plate to support healthy blood pressure.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is how much pressure your heart needs to use to keep blood flowing through your vessels. You can think of it as water flowing through a flexible tube versus flowing through a stiff, hard, narrow pipe. Imagine the different pressure required to send water through a hose versus a pipe. That’s how blood pressure works. The more force that’s needed, the more pressure it puts on your vessels, and the more damage it can do to the pump and the vessels. This is especially true when high blood pressure persists over many years.
A normal healthy blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg. The first number is the systolic pressure in your vessels as your heart beats. The second number is the diastolic pressure in your vessels between beats. If your blood pressure is slightly higher than these numbers, that’s considered “elevated.” Once your blood pressure gets above 130/80 mm Hg, you may be diagnosed with hypertension.
Can you maintain a healthy blood pressure with food?
The good news is that by intentionally choosing certain foods to add into meals and snacks, you can support healthy blood pressure and lower your risk for heart disease In fact, there is one diet that’s been specially designed to help with high blood pressure. That’s called the DASH diet: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. And research says it works.
The DASH diet for healthy blood pressure
The DASH diet is ranked among the top diets in the categories of heart-healthy, healthy eating, diabetes, easy-to-follow, and overall diets. Harvard Health says, “research supports the use of the DASH diet as a healthy eating pattern that may help to lower blood pressure, and prevent or reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, kidney disease, and gout.”
The DASH diet is full of heart-healthy foods with blood-pressure-lowering nutrients. The recommendations based on a 2,000 calorie per day intake include:
whole grains (6-8 servings/day)
fruits (4-5 servings/day)
vegetables (4-5 servings/day)
low-fat dairy (2-3 servings/day)
meat, poultry, or fish (no more than two 3 oz servings/day)
fats and oils (2-3 servings/day)
nuts, seeds, or beans (4-5 servings/week)
sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages (no more than 5 servings/week)
The DASH diet limits very few foods and nutrients such as sodium, saturated and trans fats, red meat, and sweets (including sugar-sweetened beverages).
Where do I start?
You may look at the list above and find it overwhelming. But the best place to start, is by bringing in small changes to what you are eating right now.
Are you having scrambled eggs for breakfast - add in some veggies (tomatoes, spinach, pepper, mushroom….). Check out my Chard Tomato and Zucchini Frittata.
Make your sandwiches heartier by adding on vegetables like roasted peppers, romaine, or sliced tomato.
Upgrade your fats: Cook with a healthy plant-based fat like olive or avocado oil.
Add ½ cup of your low sodium canned chickpeas, black beans or lentils to your lunch salad, or into your favorite soup. Try this Veggie Loaded Lentil Soup.
Build a snack around fruit + nuts, seeds or their butters- apple + peanut butter, banana + sunflower seed butter, or strawberries + chopped almonds are just a few ideas. Check out my easy No Cook Snack Recipe Pack.
Swap out ½ of your grains for whole grains - rolled oats for instant, mix frozen microwavable brown rice with white rice, try a sandwich with whole grain bread instead of white.
Make it a goal to include at least 1 vegetable onto your dinner plate every night. Keep it simple -microwave a bag of frozen riced cauliflower, a frozen stir fry mix, or or do a quick 3 minute sauté of baby spinach with garlic and oil.
One thing to keep in mind is that the DASH diet is a high fiber diet. Go slow when adding fiber, to reduce the reduce risk of experiencing gas and bloating. This can easily be accomplished by increasing these plant-based foods by one or two per week until you’re eating closer to the recommended amounts.
Bottom Line: Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure With Food
If you have high blood pressure or simply want to start a healthier diet to reduce your risk for a whole host of diseases, then the DASH diet may be for you. Don't get overwhelmed, small changes to what you are doing now add up in their health protective benefits. Remember, If your doctor recommends medication to help you control your blood pressure, be sure to take it as directed and go for routine monitoring or testing as required.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can get started—or continue—on your way to healthy blood pressure, I can help. Get started by booking an appointment or discovery call today!
American Heart Association. (Last Reviewed: Jun 1, 2023). Managing high blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/managing-blood-pressure-with-a-heart-healthy-diet
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 18). High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (Last Reviewed February 2022). Diet review: DASH. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/dash-diet/
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