High blood pressure? Try these foods
Q: I recently found out that I have high blood pressure. Are there any foods that can help with this? Thanks, Greg
A: There are many lifestyle factors that can influence blood pressure, and diet is certainly one of these.
There are a few different dietary patterns that are associated with lowered blood pressure, but the common thread among these is a high plant consumption – plenty of vegetables as well as some nuts and seeds, fruit and wholegrains (for people who digest these well).
There are also certain nutrients that have been shown to affect blood pressure.
Blood pressure is essentially a measure of the resistance in the blood vessels to the flow of blood, so it is influenced by the diameter of our blood vessels. Magnesium has a relaxing action and helps to regulate blood pressure by minimising constriction of the blood vessels. Food sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Increasing potassium intake has been shown to reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension. Potassium is found in many fruits and vegetables, with avocado, banana and sweet potato being particularly potassium-rich.
Potassium excretion can be impaired in some medical conditions (such as chronic kidney disease) so if you have any medical conditions, it’s important to consult your qualified medical professional before making dietary changes.
There is good evidence that reducing sodium (salt) intake can help to lower blood pressure. However, the impact of this can vary from person to person – some people are more ‘‘saltsensitive’’ than others.
When considering their salt intake, many people think of the salt they add at the dinner table, but the biggest contributor to sodium intake for people living in Western countries tends to be ‘‘hidden salt’’ in processed foods.
Salt isn’t ‘‘bad’’ – our body requires a certain amount of sodium to function properly – it’s just that when we replace real whole foods with processed foods, we can tip the balance of our electrolytes (including sodium, potassium and magnesium) in the wrong direction. Choose real whole foods.
Regular and/or excessive consumption of alcohol is associated with elevated blood pressure. This is regardless of the type of alcohol. Commit to having no more than two standard drinks per day and at least two alcoholfree days per week, or better yet, save it to enjoy in moderation on special occasions only.
So by amping up your intake of plant foods, particularly plenty of vegetables, and avoiding processed foods and drinks, the balance of nutrients that you consume will better support your body to regulate your blood pressure.
High blood pressure can also be a result of stress, so addressing sources of stress and including stress reduction practices can also be important. Incorporating more movement into your day is also very beneficial for blood pressure.
❚ Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. See drlibby.com
Increasing potassium intake from foods like bananas has been shown to reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension.