High blood pressure usually creeps up with no warnings and symptoms. If you don’t go to the doctor very often and never check your own blood pressure, you can go for years without knowing you have it. But just because you don’t feel “ill,” that doesn’t mean high blood pressure (a.k.a hypertension) isn’t doing any harm.
Doctors call it the silent killer for good reason: It’s the biggest risk factor for stroke and a major a major contributor to hear attacks and kidney failure as well as erectile dysfunction and even blindness.
Age, stress, and the foods we eat all conspire to raise our blood pressure. Fortunately, one of the easiest ways to control it is by making very simple changes to your diet—namely by eating more fruits and vegetables instead of fast food, junk food, and processed foods. That helps to naturally increase your intake of key nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and calcium, all of which lower blood pressure and to reduce sodium consumption, which raises it. Keep your blood pressure in the normal range, and lower your risk of stroke by up to 405 and of heart attack by up to 25%.
Foods rich in potassium
Off course, you’ve heard that eating less salt can help reduce high blood pressure. But what’s equally important is increasing the amount of potassium you consume. When researchers looked at the biggest factors contributing to high blood pressure amount people in five countries, they found that low potassium consumption accounted for 4 to 17% of hypertension risk. Other epidemiological studies have found that in communities where potassium consumption is generally higher, blood pressure levels are generally lower.
If you can manage to increase you potassium while also decreasing your sodium—which will happen quite naturally when you eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods—you’re doing even better. In one study, people who ate a diet that was low in sodium and high in potassium reduced stress-related spikes in blood pressure by 10 mmHg.
Try to aim for at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. You can get that much by eating the recommended 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables, particularly if you focus on this listed as being high in potassium.
Fruits and Vegetables
It’s likely that you can lower your blood pressure if you do nothing else but swap some junk food you eat for more fruits and vegetables. That was the finding of the landmark study of nutrition and blood pressure known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH. When people in the study stuck to a typical western diet and simply increased their fruit their fruit and vegetable intake, they were better able to lower their systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 2.8 mmHg and their diastolic blood pressure by 1.1 mmHg. Lowering your blood pressure by even a few points can substantially reduce your risk of a heart attack and stroke. It’s easier than you think to eat 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables into your diet. Try adding a banana or half cup of strawberries to your morning cereal, starting dinner with a salad, and tossing a cup or two of vegetables into soups or pasta sauces. Even ½ cup fruit or vegetable juice counts as a serving.
Now it’s time to grab a bag of edamame from your grocer’s freezer and start using it. People who eat more vegetable-based protein like soy (as well as beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds) tend to have lower blood pressure compared to people who gets most of their protein from animal sources like meat.
Soy contains plant estrogens that are thought to help lower blood pressure, but it’s also possible the benefits come as much from what soy displaces from your diet—like meat that’s high in fat and calories—as from the soy itself. Weight gain tends to raise blood pressure.
Low-fat and fat-free dairy foods
A glass of fat-free milk is good for the ol’ bones, but did you know it’s good for your blood vessels, too? Experts don’t completely understand why dairy foods lower blood pressure, but they suspect that their calcium, potassium, and magnesium—all of which relax arteries and improve blood flow—play a role. Recent research suggests that people who eat more low-fat dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and low-fat or fat-free milk have lower systolic pressure as well as a lower overall risk of hypertension. The DASH studies showed that diets rich in produce ad fat-free dairy foods help lower blood pressure, and another study done in Spain found that people who ate more fat-free and low-fat dairy foods had half the risk of developing hypertension compared to those who didn’t eat as muck.
Magnesium is known to relax the arteries and improve blood pressure, but its less clear whether supplements have the same effects as food sources like black beans, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and even halibut—all of which contain more than 100 milligrams per serving. But if you have high blood pressure and can’t seem to get enough magnesium in your diet, you might consider a supplement. When Japanese researchers gave 60 people with high blood pressure magnesium supplements for eight weeks, their systolic pressure dropped about 2.7 mmHg, while their diastolic reading dipped by 1.5 mmHg.
Calcium is also beneficial. If you find that you’re not getting the recommended two to three servings of low-fat dairy foods each day, consider taking a calcium supplement. If you want to limit the number of pills you take, buy a calcium/magnesium combo. Dosage: 500 milligrams of magnesium and 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily from food and supplements combined.
Some researchers suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, can modestly lower high blood pressure. Researchers don’t generally recommend taking fish oil supplement just for blood pressure, mostly because other diet changes produce more substantial results. But if you’re already taking fish oil for some other reason, you may also find that blood pressure also drops a bit.