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Healthy Eating

6 eating habits to help control high blood pressure

Diet does play a role in helping to manage blood pressure. Below are six eating habits to help keep your blood pressure in check.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly half of adults in the U.S. of 116 million people have high blood pressure or hypertension. Left undetected or controlled, high blood pressure can lead to a variety of health issues including a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, vision loss, and even sexual dysfunction.

Luckily, diet does play a role in helping to manage blood pressure. Below are six eating habits to help keep your blood pressure in check.

1. Eat a healthy diet

Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure. This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

It isn’t easy to change your eating habits, but with these tips, you can adopt a healthy diet:

Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.

Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that’s best for you.

Be a smart shopper. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy-eating plan when you’re dining out, too.

2. Eat more fruits and vegetables

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet was created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to help with high blood pressure. One of the key components of the diet is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

The DASH Diet recommends eating four to five servings per day of each fruit and vegetable. Research has also shown that both short and long-term consumption of plenty of fruits and vegetables can help lower blood pressure.

It’s a misconception that fresh fruit and vegetables are best for your health. Frozen, canned, dried, and freeze-dried can also help meet your daily recommendations. A few of my favorite easy recipes to help add fruits and/or veggies to your diet include Sweet Potato Toast with Almonds and Blueberries, Yogurt with Berry Compote, and this Baby Greens and Mushroom Salad.

3. Reduce sodium in your diet

Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can improve your heart health and reduce blood pressure by about 5 to 6 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure.

The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. However, a lower sodium intake — 1,500 mg a day or less — is ideal for most adults.

To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:

Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.

Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.

Don’t add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Use herbs or spices to add flavor to your food.

Ease into it. If you don’t feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.

4. Get your milk, cheese, and yogurt daily

The original DASH study found that both systolic (top blood pressure number) and diastolic (bottom blood pressure number) were reduced when participants consumed not just fruits and veggies, but fruits, veggies, and milk and dairy. As such, the DASH Diet does recommend two to three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt daily.

5. Opt for whole grains

The DASH Diet recommends six to eight servings of grains daily with an emphasis on whole grains. A 2020 published study found that participants who ate whole grains more often, classified as “sometimes or always” were associated with lower odds of high blood pressure compared to participants who did not consume whole grains.

Researchers concluded that consuming more whole grains may decrease the risk of developing hypertension. Whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, 100% whole wheat bread, and oats.

6. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink

Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. By drinking alcohol only in moderation — generally one drink a day for women, or two a day for men — you can potentially lower your blood pressure by about 4 mm Hg. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol.

Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can actually raise blood pressure by several points. It can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

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