When was the last time you had your blood pressure measured? Was it high? About one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure – that’s about 80 million people. Blood pressure measures the force pushing outwards on your arterial walls when your heart beats. Over time, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can stretch and damage the walls of your arteries. The result is increased risk of arterial rupture, stroke, blood clots, increased plaque build-up, high blood pressure, organ damage, and heart failure.
If you are over the age of 20, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends you get a blood pressure screening at least every two years. If your blood pressure results are high, you can take steps to lower your blood pressure to a healthy range and reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack, and other health consequences. The AHA recommends a reduced salt diet known as the DASH diet to control your blood pressure.
The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet is a healthy eating plan that reduces blood sugar by eating foods low in saturated fat, total fat, cholesterol, salt and sodium. The DASH diet encourages plenty of lean protein, low- or non-fat dairy, nuts, beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Here are seven DASH approved foods that lower blood pressure, and help reduce the risk of getting hypertension.
Replace refined grains with whole grains such as whole oats/ non-instant oatmeal, whole wheat, brown rice, barley, whole rye, and buckwheat. Oats are a great source of fiber, which can help you feel full longer, and avenanthramide, an antioxidant that protects the heart. Whole oats have been shown to help reduce “bad” cholesterol levels, and keep blood glucose steady.
2. Turkey Breast
The DASH diet recommends poultry, and turkey is a high protein food that can support healthy weight and leave you feeling full and satisfied. Turkey breasts are also low in total and saturated fat. Turkey breast contains aboutÂÂ of the total fat found in an equivalent portion of chicken breast. Avoid processed turkey breasts sliced and packaged or served at the deli, as they can have added sodium.
Cold water fish such as salmon, halibut, tuna, herring, and mackerel can help you control your blood pressure as part of the DASH diet. These fish contain beneficial omega-3 essential fatty acids, which studies have found to improve blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke.
Raw nuts such as walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, or almonds, can help reduce blood pressure. The key is to find nuts that are raw, not roasted. Roasting nuts often involves hydrogenated oils that can actually increase blood pressure. The health benefits of walnuts include improved blood circulation, a reduced risk of heart disease, and anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Sweet Potato
Potassium is an essential mineral that plays a role in blood pressure control by lessening the effects of sodium. Sweet potatoes are a good source of this important mineral. Your body needs twice as much potassium as sodium to strike the perfect balance and reduce blood pressure. Other foods that contain potassium are regular potatoes, avocados, spinach, mushrooms, peas, bananas, cantaloupe melon, and prunes.
6. Non-fat Cottage Cheese
Calcium helps blood vessels contract and expand, and low levels of this important mineral can cause arterial walls to tighten. Dairy products will deliver more calcium than a supplement, and low-fat or non-fat dairy is part of the DASH diet recommendations. Cottage cheese is also high in protein and low in saturated fat. Add some fruit, raw nuts, or seeds to your cottage cheese for a DASH diet power combination of foods that lower blood pressure.
7. Pumpkin Seeds
Magnesium is the third important mineral your body needs to help control blood pressure. Magnesium plays a role in relaxing magnesium walls, and high levels of magnesium have been associated with a lower risk for hypertension. Pumpkin seeds, spinach, swiss chard, sesame seeds, quinoa, sunflower seeds, and cashews are all rich dietary sources of magnesium and should be a part of your DASH diet to lower blood pressure.
Reduce Your Sodium Intake to Reduce Your Blood Pressure
Part of eating to reduce blood pressure means reducing your sodium intake. Sodium increases blood pressure by causing the body to hold extra fluids and overworking your heart.
Avoid processed foods whenever possible, as they account for most of the salt and sodium Americans consume. Even healthy sounding foods like canned soups, frozen “light” meals, or canned vegetables can contain large amounts of salt. Restaurant foods can also be heavily salted and high in sodium, so be sure to follow DASH guidelines when eating out, request that your food be prepared without salt, and season at the table with pepper instead of table salt.
Following a DASH diet as recommended by the American Heart Association, as well as making other healthy lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol, and getting more exercise, will help you lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, and other health conditions. Grab a fork and eat up, it’s good for your heart!