High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects over 80 million Americans at any one time – that is one in every three American adults. The lifetime risk for hypertension is 90%, meaning that almost everybody will be affected by high blood pressure at some time in their life, and the risk increases with age. The symptoms of high blood pressure are usually absent, leading to the condition earning the nickname of “The Silent Killer”. Hypertension can be diagnosed by a qualified physician and if you suspect you are suffering from the condition you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
How Does Hypertension Occur?
High blood pressure is a medical condition where the flow of blood around the body is pressed against the artery walls. We need our blood pressure to be at a safe and consistent level so that sufficient amounts of oxygen are carried to our organs; when this pressure builds up it can cause long-term damage. A good illustration is that of a garden hose- while watering your plants you want a steady stream of water to feed your plants, not a tiny trickle and not a huge heavy spray that will damage your plants and your hose.
What Can Hypertension Lead To?
If it goes untreated high blood pressure can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where fatty deposits (‘plaque’) are left in the inner artery walls. This plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, fibrin and cellular waste products. This can cause blockages and lead to conditions such as stroke, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and even cardiac arrest (heart attack). Hypertension is the primary contributory factor preceding a stroke.
Can Hypertension Be Treated?
Yes. Hypertension can be managed and treated under the care of a doctor with methods such as medication, increased exercise, stress management techniques, weight loss and a healthy diet.
Here are our 10 top tips for managing hypertension with your diet:
1. Eat A Calorie Deficit If You Are Overweight
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases, and being overweight can lead to sleep apnea (difficulty breathing while you sleep) which further increases your blood pressure.
Sticking to a calorie-restricted diet plan (i.e. consuming fewer calories than you are burning) will help you lose weight and relieve your blood pressure. Even losing a small amount of weight will help; studies have found that you reduce your blood pressure by a millimeter of mercury (mm HG) for every kilogram of weight you lose.
Another measurement to keep an eye on and treat with a calorie deficit is your waistline. Carrying excess weight around your midline in particular can lead to high blood pressure. Men are at increased risk of hypertension if they have a waistline of 40 inches or more, and women are at increased risk if they have a waistline of 35 inches or more. These numbers vary among ethnic groups so speak to your doctor about your level of risk.
2. Don’t Add Salt To Your Food
Although it can be easy to get used to adding salt at the table, your taste buds will quickly adapt if you reduce the amount of salt with a view to stopping.
Just one small teaspoon of salt contains 2300 mg of sodium, compared to the optimum daily amount of 1500 mg or less for a healthy adult. Sodium reduces the abilities of the kidneys to remove water from the body and results in a higher blood pressure due to the extra water in the bloodstream, particularly in those vessels leading to the kidneys.
If you don’t feel able to cut out your salt intake purchase a reduced-sodium salt to minimize the negative side effects on your blood pressure.
3. Cook At Home
Often food purchased in restaurants, fast food and ready meals contain added salt as well as sugars and fats to improve the flavor or as cheap bulking ingredients. By cooking at home you can ensure that you are in control of what goes into your food and it is easier to eat in calorie deficit and reduce your salt intake.
Another benefit is that you control the portion size, minimizing the risk of finishing huge portions when they are served at restaurants or cafes.
4. Increase Your Lean Protein Intake
People often mistakenly think that it is carbohydrates that make them feel full- however certain carbohydrates can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, leading to that ‘empty’ feeling that has us reaching for a sweet snack. Protein increases satiety and protein rich foods are also often lower in calories and sugar than carbs.
Good examples of lean protein sources that are also filling include include tofu, beans and legumes or mycoprotein sourced from mushrooms.
5. Eat More Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are rich in fibre, leading to quick and easy digestion that is not taxing or stressful on the body. They are also rich in many beneficial nutrients including potassium, which helps your kidneys get rid of more sodium through your urine.
Examples of leafy greens that are rich in potassium include kale, spinach, Swiss chard and romaine lettuce. If you find dark green veggies too bitter, blend them with potassium-rich bananas for a healthy and delicious smoothie!
6. Increase Your Intake Of Berries
Many berries contain high levels of compounds called flavonoids, which have been found by one study to potentially lower blood pressure and prevent hypertension. Blueberries are especially rich in flavonoids and are also a great natural sweetener, ideal for those trying to reduce their calorie intake by avoiding refined sugars.
7. Eat More Beets
Beetroot has been found to contain high levels of nitric oxide, which help blood vessels to open up and can aid the reduction of blood pressure.
Researchers during a study on hypertension found that the nitrates found in beetroot juice lowered research participants’ blood pressure within just 24 hours. Other ways of consuming beetroot is in pickled form, dried vegetable ‘crisps’ and steamed or in stews.
8. Increase Your Intake Of Omega-3
Omega-3 fats have been found to lower blood pressure, decrease triglyceride levels and reduce inflammation within the body. Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel contains high levels of Omega-3 as well as Vitamin D, which also has beneficial properties that can help lower blood pressure.
As well as increasing your Omega-3 fats decrease your intake of saturated and hydrogenated fat, especially animal-sourced fats such as meat and butter. Fried foods and processed ‘junk’ foods such as chips are high in hydrogenated fat, which is extremely difficult for your body to process and can easily lead to weight gain and fat storage around essential organs.
9. Use More Herbs And Spices In Your Cooking
Not only does this help reduce your salt and sodium intake by adding flavor, but several herbs and spices are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce blood pressure.
Garlic has properties that encourage vasodilation (the widening of the arteries) to decrease blood pressure due to its nitric acid content. Cloves, cinnamon, oregano and sage are found to be among the herbs with the highest anti-inflammatory properties. Vanilla and licorice also add natural sweetness, reducing the need to add sugar into cooking and aiding in weight loss efforts.
10. Incorporate Small Amounts Of Healthy Fats Into Your Diet
Consuming fat with meals promotes satiety which will stop you snacking on sugary treats and empty calories throughout the day. Certain fats can also help to keep your heart healthy, containing polyphenols that reduce inflammation and reduce blood pressure.
Eating small amounts of healthy fats also decreases the likelihood of reaching for foods containing unhealthy fats that may contribute to plaque in the arteries, such as cakes, chips and cookies.
11. Use Weight Loss Supplements To Help You Lose Some Fat Quicker
As we mentioned above, losing weight is undoubtably the best way to bring down your blood pressure, however it’s often easier said than done. What many people don’t actually realize is that there’s a whole host of different products out there that can make losing weight a whole lot easier.
We recommend you pick up a low-calorie meal replacement shake (i.e. a weight loss shake) and switching out either your lunch or dinner with it. The idea of replacing meals with shakes is nothing new, but it’s highly effective (it also means you won’t need to spend forever planning out and cooking a low-calorie). Diet Shakes typically contain tiny amounts of carbohydrates and lots of protein – ideal for anyone looking to enter Ketosis, the state where your body burns stored fat for energy.
Speaking of carbs, most people think they need to be dropped from your diet if you’re trying to lose weight, which isn’t actually true! If you’re a carb-fan (like most of us, let’s be honest) you should probably look into investing into some effective carb blocker pills. These types of supplements are taken 10-15 minutes before your meals and will stop your body from absorbing the calories from the carbohydrates in your meals.
As you reduce your daily caloric intake you’ll probably find that your energy levels will drop and you’ll be feeling hungrier – these two things alone can potentially spell doom for a diet. If you’re able to take pills/capsules, we recommend grabbing a good fat burner pill to use during your diet. These types of products will typically boost your energy levels, increase your metabolic rates and may also help curb your hunger cravings.
As well as improving your diet and getting to a healthy weight, exercise is extremely important for those at risk or suffering from hypertension. If you are healthy and wish to prevent getting high blood pressure, undertake moderate physical activity once a day for thirty minutes at a minimum.
Examples of beneficial exercise that can reduce your risk of hypertension include swimming, running, cycling and using cardiovascular machines such as a cross-trainer at a gym.
Once you have improved your diet in order to reduce your blood pressure or risk of hypertension, focus on other health management techniques.
Things that can reduce the risk of hypertension include stress management techniques such as meditation, getting massages or changing your job structure if you work in a high pressure environment. Talk therapy can also be beneficial for people going through chronic (long term) or relationship stress, and can prevent physical manifestations of stress such as hypertension.