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Around 72 million American adults have high blood pressure, and only half of them have it under control. High blood pressure can be especially dangerous for people who are unaware that they have a problem, such as those who make infrequent visits to their doctor, because it may have few symptoms. Over time, however, if left untreated, it will gradually weaken the lining of the blood vessels and may eventually cause them to tear. This can result in serious cardiovascular complications.
Blood Pressure Explained
Blood pressure is a measurement of the amount of force that your blood uses when it is pushing against the walls of your blood vessels. It is measured in two numbers.
The top number is the measurement of systolic pressure—blood pressure as the left ventricle of your heart contracts.
The bottom number represents diastolic pressure—blood pressure after the contraction when the heart is filling with blood.
Healthy blood pressure is considered less than 120/80. If your blood pressure is between 140-159 over 90-99, you are classified as having high blood pressure. If your range is 160+ over 90-99, you have stage two high blood pressure.
Causes of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure has a number of causes including:
- being overweight or obese
- insufficient physical exercise
- excessive salt in the diet
- family history of hypertension
- thyroid and adrenal disorders
- chronic kidney disease
For most adults, the underlying cause is not known. This type of high blood pressure is termed essential hypertension.
High Blood Pressure Complications
If left untreated or not controlled, high blood pressure can cause a number of serious health problems. Constant pressure on the walls of the arteries can cause damage to the lining of these vessels. Without treatment, this damage may be permanent and life-threatening.
Possible serious complications of high blood pressure include:
- heart attack
- metabolic syndrome
- blood clots
- torn eye blood vessels
- kidney disease
- memory problem
- brain function problems
High Blood Pressure and Your Diet
What you eat can significantly affect your blood pressure for better or for worse. Here are ten foods which you should avoid if you have high blood pressure.
The current recommended dietary guideline for salt is 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. That’s roughly one teaspoonful. However, the average American eats 3,400 mg per day, that almost 50% more than the guidelines. When you eat salt, it increases the amount of sodium in your blood. This makes your kidneys retain more water, which in turn raises your blood pressure. Most salt substitutes contain potassium chloride rather than sodium chloride, which can help to lower blood pressure. You should avoid salt substitutes if you have a condition which impairs the function of your kidneys.
Processed foods can make your blood pressure soar; this is largely due to their high salt content. To maintain healthy blood pressure, you should avoid fast food and steer clear of processed foods, particularly:
- deli meats
- white bread
- processed cheese
- canned soup
- boxed mac and cheese
Healthier options include roast beef or turkey, whole grain bread, unprocessed cheese, fresh pasta, and homemade soup.
Most ready-made meals such as frozen pizza or pasta entrees contain salty, processed ingredients like cheeses, sauces, and processed meats which deliver a large amount of sodium. Furthermore, pizza crust is also high in sodium as is the tomato sauce on pizza, which often contains more than 800 mg per cup. If you enjoy pizza, eat it infrequently. If you don’t have time to cook dinner every night, make extra on the nights when you do cook and freeze it for later to avoid ready-made processed meals.
If you’re watching your calories, a serving of soup may seem like a healthy option, but you should avoid canned or powdered soup if you are watching your blood pressure. If you do like premade soup, look for low-sodium options, these are available. You can also make soup at home and limit how much salt you add. Instead, flavor it with herbs and spices.
Sugars are digested and absorbed by the body very quickly and can raise your blood pressure. Eating too much sugar can also lead to obesity, which is also linked to hypertension. The American Heart Association recommend that the maximum daily amount of added sugar intake should be nine teaspoons for men and six teaspoons for women.
American-style Chinese Food
The style of Chinese food many people are accustomed to eating in North America is rich in MSG – monosodium glutamate. Some of the most common main dishes can contain up to 3,000mg of sodium. If the dish contains soy sauce, that can mean an additional 1,000mg. These high levels of sodium can quickly elevate your blood pressure. You can still enjoy your Chinese food and protect your health by ordering your meat and vegetables steamed and having your sauce on the side.
Basically, candy is comprised solely of sugar and calories, and often fat, so it spikes your sugar levels and your blood pressure. Skip candy bars and sugary sweets and opt for naturally sweetened fruits or sugar-free treats.
Saturated Fats and Trans-fats
If you suffer from blood pressure, you need to keep an eye on your intake of saturated fats and trans-fats. Saturated fats can be found in red meat, chicken skin, and dairy products. Typically, trans-fats are found in processed foods such as processed and packaged foods. Both types of fat will increase your levels of LDL cholesterol, which increases your blood pressure and your risk of heart disease.
Whether it’s in coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks, caffeine can cause sudden and intense spikes in your blood pressure, even if you don’t suffer from hypertension. Medical professionals are not sure why this happens, though it may be due to the fact that caffeine constricts the blood vessels.
Consuming more than three alcoholic beverages at a time can increase your blood pressure. Drinking too much alcohol on a frequent basis can raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels. If you are a heavy drinker and you wish to drink less, you should cut back your alcohol intakes gradually over one to two weeks. If you stop drinking suddenly you blood pressure could remain high for several days.
Foods That Help Lower Your Blood Pressure
What you eat can actually help to lower your blood pressure. Here are some delicious foods that will keep hypertension at bay.
Dark leafy greens such as cabbage, kale, spinach, broccoli, chard, collard greens, and lettuce are all rich in potassium. This mineral helps cleanse your kidneys of sodium, which in turn, lowers your blood pressure. Try to avoid canned vegetables as much as possible as they very often contain a large amount of added salt. Frozen vegetables are a better option because they contain the same nutrients as fresh vegetables with no added sodium.
Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, in particular, are rich in flavonoids. These compounds may help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. You can add them to your cereal, yogurt, or make delicious smoothies.
Just one serving of pistachio nuts per day can help to lower blood pressure. This is due to their ability to lower resistance in the blood vessels and reduce blood vessel tightening. Be creative about adding pistachios to your daily diet, as well as eating them as a snack you can also add them to cereal, homemade bread, sauces, and salads.
Red beets and their juice have a high nitric oxide content. This helps to lower blood pressure by relaxing and opening your blood vessels. Beets are very versatile vegetables can be roasted, pickled, fried, added to stew, juiced, and eaten raw.
Garlic and Herbs
Like beets, garlic can help to increase the level of nitric oxide in your body, which helps to lower blood pressure by widening the arteries. Adding herbs and spices to your meals can not only help you to reduce your salt intake but can also help you maintain healthy blood pressure. Some of the healthiest herbs and spices include ginger, cinnamon, basil, celery seed, and cardamom.
Oatmeal has a number of health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, improving blood sugar, and aiding digestion. They can also help lower blood pressure because they are high in fiber and beta-glucan content, which can also help lower cholesterol. Fuel up on oats at breakfast time to keep you going throughout the morning.
Yogurt appears to be able to reduce your risk of hypertension. Studies show that eating five or more servings of yogurt per week as part of a healthy diet can lower blood pressure. You can gain added benefits by eating yogurt, which has probiotics included; these can support a healthy immune system and aid digestion.
Bananas are high in potassium, which helps you maintain healthy blood pressure. This is because the more potassium you eat, the more your kidneys eliminate sodium from your body. Other fruits which are high in potassium include apricots, oranges, grapefruit, and cantaloupe.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure. Trout is also rich in vitamin D, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure.
Olive oil has a lowering effect on blood pressure. This is due to its polyphenol content. These compounds reduce inflammation and protect cells and tissues against oxidative stress. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils available. Use in for cook and making salad dressing.
This healthful fruit can be baked, juiced, or enjoyed raw. Research has shown that drinking a cup of pomegranate juice each day for four weeks can help reduce high blood pressure. When you are buying pomegranate juice, check the ingredients for added sugar. Whenever possible, it’s best to prepare your own juice.
The DASH Diet
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a flexible dietary plan which helps you create a healthy eating lifestyle which is beneficial for your heart and your blood pressure. The DASH diet is easy to follow and does not require any special foods. Instead, it provides you with daily nutritional goals. For example:
- Eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Replacing high-fat foods with fat-free or low-fat substitutes
- Limiting foods containing saturated fat
- Limiting high-sugar foods and beverages
Recommendations for the DASH Diet
Here are the DASH diet’s recommendations:
- Whole grains: 6-8 servings
- Meat, fish, and poultry: 6 or fewer servings
- Vegetables: 4-5 servings
- Fruit: 4-5 servings
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products: 2-3 servings
- Fats and oils: 2-3 servings
- Sodium: maximum 2,300 mg – lowing to 1,300 mg will significantly lower blood pressure
- Seeds, nuts, peas, and dry beans: 4-5 servings
- Sweets: 5 or fewer servings
Research on the DASH Diet
One study, which included 412 participants, showed that following a DASH diet reduces blood pressure significantly. It also showed that blood pressure decreases each time the daily intake of sodium is reduced.
Another study, which included 459 participants, some with high blood pressure, showed that following the DASH diet lowered high blood pressure and improved healthy blood pressure. A follow-up study also showed that following the DASH diet also helped to lower LDL cholesterol, thus lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
You can lower your blood pressure by watching your diet and by limiting your consumption of foods that have been shown to cause hypertension. By avoiding the ten dietary items listed in this article, you can prevent high blood pressure and continue to enjoy the benefits of good health. By adding the healthy foods listed, you can maintain a healthy blood pressure level. Other lifestyle changes that can help lower your blood pressure include losing weight, exercising, lowering stress levels, and maintaining a regular sleep pattern.
So that’s it. The top 10 foods and drinks to avoid if you’re worried about your blood pressure. If you’re wondering which foods and supplements can help support healthy blood pressure levels, go here to learn more.