Nearly half of all American adults have difficulties keeping their blood pressure at a manageable level, but many people want to avoid taking medication for high blood pressure unless they absolutely have to.
High blood pressure is heavily influenced by a number of lifestyle factors, which means there are lots of different ways to manage your condition.
High blood pressure doesn’t have many noticeable symptoms, which leads to its nickname as the “silent killer” because it is a major contributor to many of the leading causes of death, including heart disease and stroke.
If you are interested in finding ways to manage your high blood pressure without medication, you’ll want to know what causes high blood pressure, what foods to avoid with high blood pressure, and what other lifestyle changes you can make to get your condition under control.
What is high blood pressure?
Heart health is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body so that it is able to deliver oxygen to the organs, tissues, and extremities.
Blood pressure is measured as the force with which blood pushes against the walls of the blood vessels; blood vessels include veins, arteries, and capillaries.
The heart must pump hard enough so that the blood reaches all of the different areas of the body, but sometimes, lifestyle factors influence the force at which blood presses against the walls of the blood vessels.
If the blood presses too hard against the walls of the blood vessels for a prolonged period of time, a person is considered to have high blood pressure (mm hg).
High blood pressure can cause damage to the walls of the blood vessels and to the heart such as a heart attack, and it can also contribute to a number of other dangerous medical conditions, like coronary artery disease and stroke.
Specifically, high blood pressure increases the workload of the heart and blood vessels, causing them to work less efficiently.
When the efficiency is reduced, the heart and blood vessels must work harder to provide the tissues and organs with the blood they need to function.
High blood pressure can cause microtears in the walls of the arteries, which causes them to narrow and further prevents blood from reaching the different areas of the body, thereby elevating your blood pressure in a vicious cycle.
What are foods to avoid with high blood pressure?
In general, there are certain ingredients to avoid when you have high blood pressure. These include salt/sodium, sugar, saturated fats and trans fats, and alcohol.
Whether you have high blood pressure or not, you have probably heard that diets that are high in salt and sodium are bad for people with hypertension.
Although salt and sodium are similar, they’re not the same thing; sodium is a mineral that can cause your blood pressure to increase, and salt is made mostly of sodium.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium per day; however, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people with high blood pressure keep their daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less, which is less than half of the amount most people are currently consuming.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t get most of the sodium we eat each day from the salt shaker on the dinner table.
It’s actually found in processed foods and food served at restaurants. In order to keep your low sodium intake in check, people with high blood pressure should avoid the following foods, which are highly processed and contain high amounts of sodium:
- Deli meats
- Vegetable juices
- Canned or bottled tomato products
- Frozen pizza
- Canned soup
One of the largest risk factors for high blood pressure is obesity, and excessive sugar intake is closely linked to weight gain and obesity. Consumption of sugar, and especially sugary drinks like soda or juice, is known to contribute to obesity, which can in turn cause high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that men consume no more than 36 grams of sugar per day, while women should consume no more than 24 grams per day. Not sure how that translates into real life?
One can of soda typically contains 39 grams of sugar, which exceeds the daily limit for both men and women. In order to keep your sugar intake under control, avoid sugary drinks and foods with added sugar, such as baked goods and candy.
Saturated fats and trans fats
Another risk factor for high blood pressure is high cholesterol, specifically high levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or bad cholesterol.
Trans fats can be found in small amounts naturally in certain fatty cuts of meat and dairy products, but they are found in much higher amounts in packaged and processed foods.
While saturated fats should be limited, trans fats should be avoided entirely when possible; both types of fat contribute to increases in LDL cholesterol levels.
As your LDL cholesterol level rises, your blood pressure levels are also likely to increase, and you could find yourself at an increased risk of coronary artery disease.
To limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fats, limit your consumption of the following:
- Chicken skin
- Red meat, especially fatty cuts
- Full-fat dairy
Healthy Fats include the following:
Alcohol can be confusing when it comes to how it affects your blood pressure, because drinking alcohol in moderation can actually help to lower your blood pressure.
However, drinking too much alcohol can actually cause your blood pressure to increase. Not sure how much is too much?
The Mayo Clinic suggests that drinking more than three drinks in a sitting causes a temporary spike in blood pressure. When excess alcohol is consumed over time, it can lead to a long-term increase in blood pressure, as well as weight gain, which contributes to obesity.
How can I lower my blood pressure?
Eating a healthy diet or eating plan, for example, the Dash Diet, that limits the amount of sodium, sugar, saturated fats, trans fats, and alcohol you consume is one of the most important things you can do in order to lower your blood pressure.
However, a large variety of lifestyle factors play a role in high blood pressure, which means there are many other changes you can make as well to get your blood pressure under control.
If you have been diagnosed with or start noticing symptoms of high blood pressure, try incorporating some of these simple changes into your daily routine:
- Eat more whole foods: We’ve already talked about what you shouldn’t eat when you have high blood pressure, so how about mentioning what you should eat? Lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains naturally contain less sodium than the highly processed stuff, so consuming more of these foods will help keep your low salt intake down and your weight manageable.
- Quit smoking: In addition to being a dangerous and unhealthy habit overall, smoking increases your blood pressure with every puff because nicotine is a stimulant.
- Add in exercise: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that people exercise for at least 150 minutes per week if performing moderate activity or 75 minutes per week if performing vigorous activity. An easy way to make sure you get your exercise in is to shoot for exercising 30 minutes each day.
- Lose weight: Obesity is one of the main contributing factors to high blood pressure, so losing weight can help you see your numbers drop. Even losing five to ten pounds can lead to a noticeable drop in your blood pressure.
- Eat dark chocolate: With all of that talk about healthy food, it might be a surprise to see chocolate as a recommended food for high blood pressure. However, eating one to two squares of 60 to 70 percent cacao dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
- Go to bed: Everyone needs more sleep, but people with high blood pressure especially need to prioritize getting enough rest. Sleep deprived people are more likely to have high blood pressure, so it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene and try to get in your eight hours each night.
- Reduce your stress: Most people know that stress corresponds to high blood pressure, but we still continue to pack more and more into our schedules. Try to reduce your obligations at work or home and practice mindfulness exercises, because managing your stress is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your blood pressure.
- Limit caffeine intake: Caffeine is a stimulant like nicotine, which means it immediately and temporarily increases your blood pressure for about 45 to 60 minutes. Limit your caffeine intake in order to help reduce your blood pressure.
- Take blood pressure medication if needed: Some people live a health lifestyle but still experience high blood pressure or shortness of breath, which may mean that it’s time to consider taking a prescription medication like beta blockers to lower your blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about your options.
Focusing on dietary approaches to stop hypertension will help you to correct and decrease your chances on high blood pressure.
Owner, entrepreneur, and health enthusiast.
Chris is one of the Co-Founders of Pharmacists.org. An entrepreneur at heart, Chris has been building and writing in consumer health for over 10 years. In addition to Pharmacists.org, Chris and his Acme Health LLC Brand Team own and operate Diabetic.org and the USA Rx Pharmacy Discount Card powered by Pharmacists.org.
Chris has a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designation and is a proud member of the American Medical Writer’s Association (AMWA), the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP), the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the Council of Science Editors, the Author’s Guild, and the Editorial Freelance Association (EFA).
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