The food you eat can significantly affect your blood chemistry and blood pressure. Fortunately, a diet that's good for your heart doesn't have to be agony for your taste buds. Here are some suggestions for making the right food choices for high blood pressure:
Do the DASH: Research supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute led to the development of an eating plan that can prevent and help treat high blood pressure.
The eating plan, known as the DASH -- named after a key study called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension -- is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. It also includes whole-grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts, and it limits meat, sweets, and sugary beverages. This makes for a diet rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber -- a winning combination for lowering blood pressure.
Cut back on salt: Research using the DASH diet and different levels of dietary sodium confirmed what has been advised for many years -- reducing dietary sodium and salt can help lower blood pressure. Some people, such as African Americans and the elderly, are especially sensitive to salt and sodium and should be particularly careful about how much they consume.
Being sensitive to salt (or sodium) means you have a tendency to retain fluid when you take in too much salt, probably because of a defect in your kidneys' ability to get rid of sodium. Your body tries to dilute the sodium in the blood by conserving fluids. This forces your blood vessels to work extra hard to circulate the additional blood volume.
Rack up potassium: Some people who have hypertension take thiazide diuretics that cause a loss of potassium, so they are told to eat a banana each day to replace it. But researchers now think extra potassium may be a good idea for everyone. Not only do we eat too much sodium, we take in too little potassium. It's the balance between sodium and potassium that is thought to be important to blood pressure.Don't run out to buy potassium supplements, however. That could be dangerous. Both too much and too little potassium can trigger a heart attack. Stick to foods high in potassium to be safe; foods rich in potassium include bananas, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, and milk.Note: If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and are taking a potassium-sparing diuretic (ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure) or if you have kidney disease, first ask your doctor whether you need extra potassium.
Collect calcium: Your heart needs calcium to maintain its proper rhythm, and your kidneys need calcium to regulate your body's sodium/water balance. Research has shown, however, that people who have high blood pressure generally don't get enough dietary calcium. Other studies confirm that getting extra calcium can actually lower blood pressure. But that effect is not necessarily seen with calcium supplements. Rely, instead, on foods that are rich in calcium.
Go for garlic: Numerous researchers have pointed to garlic's ability to lower blood pressure. It also makes a fabulous flavor replacement when you're cutting back on salt.
Let fruits and vegetables reign: Vegetarians have a much lower incidence of high blood pressure. You, too, can benefit from this approach without becoming a vegetarian. Gradually increase your daily servings by sneaking in an extra serving or two at each meal. You will likely be eating less fat, more fiber, less salt, and more potassium -- and you'll probably lose weight. Those benefits will help lower your blood pressure.
You don't have to cut the coffee: Caffeine does not appear to be associated with hypertension. While it can raise your blood pressure temporarily, your body adapts to the caffeine level if you routinely drink a certain amount of coffee, tea, or cola every day, and your blood pressure is no longer affected by that amount.