High blood pressure or hypertension refers to the increased pressure of blood against your blood vessel walls. In the long run, untreated hypertension can damage your blood vessels that result in kidney disease, heart disorders, or stroke. 

According to the Canadian Health Measures Survey, every 1 in 4 Canadian has hypertension. Certain factors that increase your risk for hypertension, such as family history, gender, and age, are not in your control. However, the good news is there are factors such as diet and exercise that you can control.

Consuming a healthy and nutritious diet may help you lower your blood pressure readings by 10 mm Hg. Read on to know foods that help you combat hypertension.

Hypertension and Nutrition

Research has proven that what you eat affects your blood pressure. Certain foods that increase your blood pressure should be avoided, while foods that lower it should be included in the diet. 

Besides, gaining weight is a risk factor for hypertension. So, foods that increase weight should be avoided, and foods that promote weight loss should be consumed.

Foods to Consume in Hypertension

Here is a list of food items beneficial for managing hypertension:

  • Oats
  • Berries
  • Watermelon
  • Kiwis
  • Dark chocolate
  • Bananas
  • Fermented foods
  • Berries
  • Garlic
  • Cinnamon
  • Pistachios
  • Pomegranate
  • Yogurt
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Lentils and pulses

Foods to Avoid in Hypertension

Some food items that increase blood pressure and thus be avoided or limited are:

  • Margarine
  • Butter
  • Fatty meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Fried foods
  • Canned soups
  • Deli meats
  • Fast foods
  • Salted snacks
  • Whole milk dairy products

Diet Plan in Hypertension

If you are diagnosed with hypertension, making changes in your diet aids in controlling blood pressure. These changes may also help in losing weight and lowering the risk of heart disorders and stroke.

A health care professional, along with a dietitian, can help you to create a plan. Your plan will depend on your medical problems and other risk factors.  

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet

The DASH diet is proven to manage blood pressure, and the benefit can sometimes be seen within a few weeks. It also aids in preventing diabetes, stroke, cancer, and osteoporosis.

The diet includes foods rich in fibre, nutrients, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. The sodium content of the diet is also lower than in a typical Canadian diet.

According to Hypertension Canada, the goals of the diet are (serving examples are according to the 2,000-calorie-a-day diet):

Sodium 

Limit your sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day as compared to 3,400 mg in a standard Canadian diet. There is a lower sodium version of the DASH diet as well where the recommended intake is 1,500 mg.

Some tips:

  • Limit the intake of salt at the table as well as while cooking.
  • Avoid highly processed foods.
  • Avoid ready-to-made and canned foods high in sodium
  • Prefer other seasoning food items such as lemon, herbs, and garlic instead of salt.

Fats: 2-3 servings

Examples of one serving include one tablespoon mayonnaise, one teaspoon soft margarine, or two tablespoons salad dressing.

Fat is important to absorb vital nutrients and boost your body’s immune system. But too much fat increases the risk of complications of high blood pressure, such as heart diseases and stroke.

Consumption of Total fat should not be more than 27% of your daily calorie requirement. Intake varies for different types of fats and is as follows:

  • Saturated fats increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. DASH aids in maintaining the consumption of saturated fats to less than 6% of the daily calorie requirement. Foods rich in saturated fats are butter, cheese, cream, meat, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil.
  • Avoid foods rich in trans fats, such as baked goods, crackers, and fried items.
  • Prefer taking monounsaturated fats, such as canola and olive oil.
  • Include low-fat dairy products in your diet.

Vegetables: 4-5 Servings

Examples of one serving include 1/2 cup diced cooked or raw vegetables or 1 cup of raw green leafy vegetables.

Include vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, and greens as they are high in fibre, magnesium, and potassium.

Some tips for consuming vegetables:

  • Vegetables are not only for the side dish. Include a blend of vegetables along with whole-wheat noodles or brown rice as a main dish.
  • You can reduce the amount of meat to half and add double the quantity of vegetables.
  • While selecting frozen vegetables, prefer those labeled as without salt or less salt.

Fruits: 4-5 Servings

Examples of one serving include ½ cup of diced fruits (frozen, fresh, or canned), one medium fruit, or 4 ounces of fruit juice.

The majority of the fruits need little to no preparation and are thus easy to include in a snack or meal. Similar to vegetables, fruits are also rich in magnesium, potassium, fibre, and low in fat.

Some tips:

  • Consume edible peels whenever possible. The peels of fruits such as pears and apples are rich in fibre and enhance the texture of food.
  • You can add a piece of fruit to snacks and meals. You can also add fruits to desserts or low-fat yogurt. 
  • For canned juice or fruits, include those without added sugar.

Grains: 6-8 Servings

Examples of one serving include one ounce of dry cereal, one slice whole-wheat bread, and 1/2 cup cooked rice, cereals, or pasta.

Healthy sources of grains are pasta, bread, cereals, and rice.

Some tips:

  • Prefer whole grains as they have higher nutrients and fibre content than refined grains. It is thus advisable to swap white rice with brown rice and regular pasta with whole-wheat pasta.
  • Look for foods labeled as “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain”.
  • Grains are naturally low in fats. To maintain this, avoid adding cream, butter, and cheese sauces to them.

Nuts, Legumes, and Seeds: 4-5 Servings

Examples of one serving include two tablespoons nut butter or seeds, 1/3 cup nuts, and 1/2 cup cooked peas or beans.

Include sunflower seeds, peas, almonds, kidney beans, and lentils in your diet as they are rich in potassium, magnesium, and protein. They also have a high content of fibre and phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that may protect against cardiovascular disorders and cancers.

Some tips:

  • As nuts are high in calories, eat them in moderation.
  • You can add nuts in salads, stir-fries, or cereals.
  • Swap meat with soybean products such as tempeh and tofu. 

Protein: 6 One-Ounce Servings 

Examples of one serving include 1 ounce of fish or poultry and one egg.

Skinless poultry, fish, and soy products are the best sources of protein.

Some tips:

  • Protein intake to be limited to 18 % of your total calorie requirement. 
  • Trim away fat and skin from poultry and then broil, grill, or bake instead of frying.
  • Prefer heart-healthy fish such as herring, salmon, and tuna. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that thwart the deposition of cholesterol in blood vessels and thus prevent heart disorders.

Sweets: 5 Servings a Week

Examples of one serving include 1/2 cup sorbet, one tablespoon jelly, sugar, or jam, or 1 cup lemonade.

The good news for all sweet lovers is that you do not have to banish sweets. Just go easy on them!

Some tips:

  • While selecting sweets, go for those that are low-fat or fat-free such as fruit ices, hard candy, low-fat cookies, sorbet, jelly beans, and graham crackers.
  • Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose and aspartame, aid in satisfying your sweet craving as well as sparing the sugar content.
  • Swap a diet cold-drink for a regular one. Prefer a beverage with better nutrition, such as low-fat milk instead of cola.
  • Curb your intake of added sugar as it lacks nutritional energy and is high on calories

Other Nutrients

  • Carbohydrates intake should not be more than 55% of daily calorie intake.
  • Limit dietary cholesterol to 150 mg.
  • Consume at least 30 grams of fibre

Precautions

If you have kidney problems or on certain medications, you should be careful about your potassium intake. It is thus a great idea to consult your dietitian or physician before increasing your potassium intake or including salt substitutes with high sodium. 

Also, citrus juices and fruits, such as grapefruit, and might interact with certain medications. So, it is a good idea to consult your doctor before consuming them.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol in moderation can potentially lower your blood pressure; however, this beneficial effect is lost if you have too much of it. 

Moderate consumption of alcohol includes:

  • For men: Two drinks of alcohol in a day.
  • For women: One drink of alcohol in a day.

(One drink equals, five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor

Caffeinate 

The effect of caffeine on blood pressure is controversial. It may raise blood pressure by 10 mm Hg in individuals who hardly consume caffeine. However, it may have little or no effect on people who consume caffeine regularly. 

So, despite the long-term effects of caffeine on blood pressure are not clear, it may still be able to increase blood pressure. To see its impact on you, monitor your blood pressure 30 minutes after having a caffeinated beverage. A rise in blood pressure by 5-10 mm Hg suggests that you are sensitive to caffeine. 

Final Thoughts

Hypertension is a condition where blood puts too much pressure on your blood vessel wall. If left untreated for a long time, hypertension can damage blood vessels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disorders or stroke. Diet is among various factors that are under your control to manage your blood pressure. Remember, a healthy diet is not about an all-or-none proposition. Instead, moderation is the key here. Having a more nutritional diet with a variety of food items aid in preventing boredom and keeping your diet healthy. Luckily, with the DASH diet, it is possible to have both.

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