About 73 million U.S. adults are walking around with high blood pressure or hypertension. It’s called “the silent killer” because there are absolutely no signs that you have it. When you have high blood pressure, your heart has to pump harder and the arteries are under increased pressure, which can lead to injury of the artery walls, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
Shockingly, less than one-third of people with high blood pressure have it under control and uncontrolled blood pressure significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. The good news is new research reported a 10 mm Hg reduction of systolic blood pressure reduced the risk of major cardiovascular disease events, stroke, and heart failure by 20-28%. Experts agree that maintaining a healthy weight, staying active and not smoking are three of your best bets for managing blood pressure. But what you eat (or don’t eat) can also improve blood pressure. Most of us know that limiting sodium and salt to less than 2400 milligrams a day is recommended, but here are a few of the more secret food-related tips.
The Tale of Two Minerals: Potassium and Sodium
Americans tend to get too little potassium and too much sodium in their diet. While a high intake of sodium raises hypertension risk, people who meet the daily requirement for the electrolyte potassium, reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors. Get more potassium every day by including a daily dose of dark green leafy veggies. Other potassium heavy hitters in the vegetable category include artichokes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes and potatoes with skin. In the fruit category look tobananas, oranges/orange juice, papayas, cherries, kiwi, tomatoes, avocado, and cantaloupe/watermelon for potassium.
The Three Amigo Minerals: potassium, magnesium, and calcium
We’ve just been reminded about the power of potassium, but potassium is also one of three minerals that are vital for improving blood pressure. And as luck or mother-nature would have it, at least two and sometimes all three are found together in foods. The big star in this list is dark green leafy veggies (which boasts all three minerals), other foods on this list include low fat dairy, nuts (almonds, peanuts, soy nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, etc.), beans and peas (especially edamame/soybeans), seafood (especially shellfish and clams), and whole grains (especially oats and quinoa).
Let the DASH Diet Inspire You
The DASH eating plan, which features many of the foods we already noted in the first two tips, has lowered blood pressure similar to what is commonly achieved with medications. Along with a lower sodium intake, this tested eating plan encourages daily 8-10 servings of vegetables and whole fruit, 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy, whole grains over processed grains, nuts, seeds and beans (2-3 tablespoons), and no more than 6 ounces of lean meat, poultry or fish.
Include Extra Virgin Olive Oil in your Daily Diet
New research continues to suggest that there may be blood pressure-lowering benefits to including extra-virgin olive oil in your daily diet. Along with the more favorable monounsaturated fats, extra virgin olive oil adds 30-plus plant compounds, many of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action in the body.
Dark Chocolate & Cocoa Helps Crush High Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa are loaded with antioxidants and improve blood pressure, blood lipids, and arterial flexibility and vascular health. The dose suggested to be helpful (and associated with lowering the risk of heart attack) is .33-ounce dark chocolate or 1.5 tablespoons of cocoa powder at least 3-4 times a week.
Magee is an Albertsons Companies Wellness Corporate Dietitian and the author of 25 books, including “Tell Me What to Eat if I Suffer from Heart Disease.”