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Having high blood pressure can lead to a host of heart issues, including heart disease, stroke and heart attack. While there are numerous lifestyle strategies that can lower blood pressure, one of the most effective is by changing what you eat. “It’s my belief that our lifestyle impacts about 70 percent of all chronic diseases, including hypertension, diabetes and obesity,” says Robert Graham, M.D., MPH, ABOIM, FACP, Performance Kitchen’s chief health officer and co-founder of FRESH Medicine in New York City.
Studies show that following a diet designed to lower sodium, like the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, can lower high blood pressure. As Graham notes, the DASH diet can reduce your blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg. “A reduction of 10 mm Hg is equivalent, if not better, than most medications,” he says. The diet not only reduces your need for blood pressure medication but also halts the progression of hypertension, Graham adds.
One reason the DASH diet is so effective? It places heavy emphasis on eating plants. A study from JAMA Internal Medicine found that vegetarian diets were associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures compared with omnivorous diets, Graham explains. And per a review in Progress in Cardiovascular Disease, a plant-based diet reduced the risk of high blood pressure by 34 percent.
Foods to Lower Blood Pressure
Of course, no one food can lower blood pressure alone because it’s about what you eat on a daily basis. “DASH is an eating pattern as opposed to depending on a few superfoods,” says Marla Heller, MS, RD, New York Times best-selling author of five books on the DASH diet, including The DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution (Grand Central Life & Style, 2012). But there are some plant-based foods that stand out in terms of their blood pressure benefits. Here are 10 to put on your plate:
Eat a serving a day, and you’ll be consuming minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and vitamin K that relax the blood vessels and over time lower blood pressure, Graham says. Bonus? Broccoli (and other cruciferous veggies) contain sulforaphane, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.
There’s good reason to get your beet on, namely that the fiber, folate, manganese and dietary nitrates in fresh beets and beet juice can help relax and dilate blood vessels, Graham says. One to 2 cups per day is the recommended dose to get the blood-pressure-lowering benefits of beets.
Two bananas a day have been shown to reduce blood pressure by up to 10 percent. Credit the high levels of potassium, fiber and magnesium, all of which help relax the muscles in the walls of blood vessels, lowering blood pressure as a result, Graham says.
You already know beans are a fantastic source of fiber and a vegetable protein, but they’re also rich in key DASH nutrients, including potassium, calcium and magnesium. “While we don’t typically think of fiber as a nutrient, it’s helpful for nourishing the good bacteria in the intestines and soaking up cholesterol and fats, which reduces the amount that’s absorbed during digestion,” Heller says.
The anthocyanins in berries like blueberries, strawberries and blackberries give these fruits their color, and that could be an ally for blood pressure, Graham explains. In a study from The Journals of Gerontology, eating a cup a day widened arteries, which reduced cardiovascular disease.
6. Hibiscus tea
According to a clinical trial, drinking two cups a day of this tea can lower your blood pressure when you’re in the early stages of high blood pressure. “It contains a compound that causes nitric oxide to be released from the vascular endothelium (the tissue that lines blood vessels and organs like the heart), which is followed by an increase in kidney filtrations,” says Graham, adding that this can then lower blood pressure.
Say yes to this summer favorite. Two amino acids in watermelon — L-citrulline and L-arginine — aid in blood vessel dilation and relaxation, which then reduces blood pressure, Graham says.
Potatoes are a powerhouse of DASH nutrients. Just a ½-cup serving is rich in potassium and magnesium, and if you eat the skin, you’re adding fiber, which will reduce heart disease risk, Heller explains. Even more interesting? “As the potato cools, it forms resistant starch, which nourishes the healthy bacteria in your intestines, and that healthy bacteria seem to improve the health of your cardiovascular system,” she says. “It appears that the fermentation of resistant starch and other types of fibers can improve blood sugar control and the way fats are metabolized.” That’s important because there’s a strong relationship between blood pressure, blood sugar and heart disease.
Choose unsalted versions, which Heller calls heavy hitters for the DASH diet. They contain minerals, calcium, potassium and magnesium, and studies show that people who eat at least two or more 1-ounce servings per week of nuts are half as likely to have heart attacks as those who don’t eat nuts. (And if you have nut allergies, Heller says avocados can be a good substitute because they’re rich in similar nutrients and the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat nuts are notorious for.) Plus, another study found that when refined carbohydrates and sweets were replaced by the type of fat in nuts and olives, blood pressure was reduced.
10. Extra-virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Fans of the Mediterranean diet will love hearing that EVOO contains polyphenols that can reduce nitric-oxide levels in your body, which can reduce systolic blood pressure. That’s why Graham recommends using it as your primary cooking as well as in your dressings for salad. Two to 4 tablespoons a day has been shown to have benefits, according to a study in The Archives of Internal Medicine.