Your heart is the powerhouse of the body, pumping blood, oxygen and nutrients to every cell. High on the list of heart care strategies is preventing and managing high blood pressure. What you might not realize is how important your diet is in your blood pressure control program. Whether eating according to the DASH plan (see more on that below) or choosing some specific foods (which includes goodies like dark chocolate) the foods you eat can help keep your blood pressure under control.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is simply the medical term for high blood pressure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in three of US adults meet the definition for high blood pressure – a level of 140/90 mmHg or above. Hypertension can damage your blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. It often goes hand-in-hand with diabetes – another condition that benefits from dietary changes. When your blood pressure is too high, it increases the pressure in the vascular system (heart, arteries and veins). That means your heart has to pump harder; over time, the heart muscle can just plain wear out, leading to heart failure.
What Are Some Hypertension Strategies?
Medication for high blood pressure is certainly one option. However, if you’re still in the early stages of hypertension and your blood pressure is not dangerously elevated, you might be able to reverse this condition by changing your habits. Regular exercise can help you maintain or lose weight and it also helps relieve stress (which can adversely affect your blood pressure). Eating right also helps promote weight loss, and in combination with exercise can make a big difference in your heart health. The DASH diet, developed by the National Institutes of Health, is designed to lower blood pressure. In addition, there are some specific “super foods” that can lower your blood pressure naturally.
The DASH Diet for High Blood Pressure
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. In a nutshell, increase fruits and vegetables, cut back on fat (especially saturated fat) and red meat, limit your sugar intake and decrease your salt consumption. The DASH diet keeps the focus on poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts and low-fat milk. When you eat the DASH way, you should:
- Go for fruits and veggies. Ideally, you should eat at least four to five servings of both fruits and vegetables each day. The more colorful, the better, both because it provides eye appeal and because you’ll get a much wider array of nutrients such as antioxidants, which are good for your health.
- Limit salt consumption to 2,300 milligrams of salt a day (the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt). Foods like soy sauce, canned vegetables, baking soda, canned soups and commercial salad dressings are all sources of added sodium. Make your own or buy low sodium versions. Read food labels carefully – sodium can hide in some unexpected places. Replace the salt with spices and herbs to jazz up the taste buds. Once you’ve eaten this way for a while, you’ll find your taste buds adjust, and salty snacks will seem TOO salty.
- Decrease sugar, which is not only bad for your waistline and your teeth, it has negative effects on your immune system. The American Heart Association recommends no more than nine teaspoons of sugar a day for men and six for women. Like sodium, sugar hides in many prepared foods. You may find it under an assumed name, however. Look for terms like sucrose, glucose and fructose as well as sugar.
In addition to the DASH diet, there are some foods that have a proven history when it comes to dropping your blood pressure. Try adding these to your daily plate.
What Foods Lower Blood Pressure?
With oats, it seems to be the fiber that makes the difference. Whole oats (not the instant kind) can reduce your blood pressure and the level of “bad” cholesterol in your body. Isn’t it nice to get double benefits from one food?
Again, nitric oxide is the main player here. Beets (sometimes called beetroots) can drop blood pressure in healthy participants, according to one study. Three hours after drinking beetroot juice, the study participants had lower blood pressure. Scientists think it’s because the nitrate in the beets is converted into nitric oxide.
Garlic isn’t just good for keeping vampires away. When crushed or chopped, compounds in the garlic create allicin. Allicin dilates blood vessels. It also inhibits a hormone called angiotensin II, which constricts blood vessels and can make your blood pressure higher. A number of studies have found that garlic can help lower blood pressure.
Like cocoa, watermelon can increase nitric oxide production. In the case of this delicious summer fruit, it’s an amino acid called L-citrulline that makes the difference. In one study people ate watermelon twice a day for six weeks. Watermelon helped decrease aortic systolic pressure – the blood pressure when your heart is actually contacting. Watermelon also helped make study participants’ arteries less stiff, which makes it easier for the heart to pump blood through the body.
Pomegranate juice, like cocoa, is full of antioxidants and bio-active polyphenols. This deep red fruit can be juiced or eaten out of hand. A study reported in Phytotherapy Research noted that one glass (150 cc) of pomegranate juice between lunch and dinner each day for two weeks lowered blood pressure in those who had hypertension.
6.) Dark Chocolate
Who wouldn’t want to eat more chocolate? Fifteen days of dark chocolate reduced hypertension, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Cocoa contains organic chemicals called polyphenols, especially a version called flavonals. Flavonols are loaded with antioxidants and also have anti-inflammatory effects, which increase the production of a chemical called nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is heart-protective. Make sure you’re choosing 85 percent or better dark chocolate – that gives you more of the good stuff and less sugar.
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