If lowering your blood pressure is at the top of your priority list, health-wise, you're not alone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 1.13 billion people struggle with elevated blood pressure worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control&Prevention reports that nearly half of Americans have hypertension, and only about 1 in 4 have their condition under control. High blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke—both leading causes of death in the U.S.—but health experts say making healthy eating choices is one of the top factors you have control over in keeping this condition under control. And you can start by eating this best diet to lower blood pressure!
"Generally speaking, a diet rich in whole foods and low in sodium, refined flour, and added sugars is best for lowering blood pressure," says Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, and nutrition consultant for Freshbit, the AI-driven visual diet diary app. "These attributes can be found in any whole-food-based diet, including Mediterranean, vegan, and paleo. A focus on 100% whole grains, little to no added sugars, lean proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and plenty of fruits and vegetables is ideal." (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now)
Top eating habits to lower blood pressure
No matter what your dietary restrictions or preferences are, Minchen says there are lots of easy ways to keep your blood pressure down. Here are some of the habits she suggests:
Reducing sodium intake by not adding table salt to food
Reduce sodium intake by avoiding or limiting processed foods (deli meats, chips, frozen meals, etc.)
Tracking your sodium intake and keeping your total to about 2,300 milligrams per day or less.
Eating more potassium-rich foods (bananas, citrus fruits, spinach, beans, etc.)
Replacing refined bread, pasta, and crackers with whole-grain versions
A great way to keep an eye on your sodium and potassium intake, according to Minchen, is by using an app like Freshbit, which provides insight into how much you're consuming of certain nutrients based on the foods you eat. When you eat too much salt, your body holds on to extra water, which can put stress on your blood vessels and heart and cause your blood pressure to rise.
But potassium has the opposite effect, says Minchen, relaxing blood vessel walls and thereby reducing blood pressure. And given that a 2007 study found higher whole-grain intake was associated with a reduced risk of hypertension, it's well worth making the switch from refined grains. Not only can whole grains help to make you feel full for longer, but they also reduce damage to your blood vessels, decrease your risk of insulin resistance, and increase your intake of potassium.
Foods to eat to lower blood pressure
According to Minchen, some foods you'll want to eat more of to lower your blood pressure include fatty fish (like wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel), chicken breast, berries, bananas, spinach, broccoli, citrus fruit, quinoa, brown rice, whole potatoes with the skin, full-fat yogurt, and eggs.
"Eating more of these foods provides essential potassium, calcium, magnesium, and an array of vitamins that support a healthy cardiovascular system," she explains. "They also take the place of more processed foods, which means that one is consuming less sodium when eating more of these foods."
At the same time, she says you'll want to limit your intake of deli and processed meats, salty processed snacks (like pretzels), fried food, and fast food. This is because, as the World Health Organization reports, a diet high in saturated fat and trans fats is a major risk factor for high blood pressure.
"When your diet is mostly processed, you are consuming excessive amounts of sodium, which contributes to an increase in blood vessel stiffening. Additionally, you're missing out on other essential nutrients that support healthy blood pressure. Reducing intake of these foods makes room for more nutrient-rich whole foods."
Before your next trip to the grocery store, 20 Healthiest Foods That Lower Blood Pressure