If you are someone that suffers from high blood pressure (hypertension), you’re probably aware of a range of medications that exist for treatment, including diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta blockers, and renin inhibitors. Saying all of these medications together is like a tongue twister, and it might make you wonder whether there are ways to avoid having to take them.
Lifestyle remedies for high blood pressure
Luckily, there are some non-medicinal changes you could make to reduce or even eliminate blood pressure medications from your routine. Doctors and dieticians will tell you that in order to see a longterm improvement in your blood pressure, you need to make important lifestyle changes that go beyond medication.
Some of these changes include:
- Not smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising for 30 minutes on most days of the week
- Limiting alcohol intake (1 drink a day for women and for men over 65, and 2 drinks a day for men under 65)
- Eating a healthy diet
Dietary considerations for hypertension
This last one, maintaining a healthy diet, is the most vague. What does a healthy diet consist of for someone with high blood pressure?
"Healthy" can mean something different for everyone, based on differences in dietary needs. Some may think whole grain bread is part of a healthy diet, but if you suffer from gluten intolerance, whole grain bread may have you running to the toilet.
The same is true of people who have issues with their blood pressure. What might be healthy for some people might not be for someone with high blood pressure.
There is a range of specific foods that have a health-boosting effect in lowering blood pressure. Integrating them into your diet could make all of the difference.
People who have high blood pressure should make important, sometimes drastic changes to their diet and lifestyle in order to protect their health and longevity. Many health professionals refer to it as the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. People who follow the DASH diet may see drastic improvements in their blood pressure in as little as two weeks. While it’s not a weight loss diet, some people may see improvements in weight as well.
DASH diet guidelines:
- Limit salt intake. Sodium increases blood pressure, so it is important to limit salt intake to a maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium per day on the standard DASH diet, or 1,500 mg of sodium per day on the lower sodium DASH diet. Make sure to check labels, because there is a significant amount of sodium hidden in processed foods.
- Increase intake of fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals that are important for maintaining overall health. Studies show that an adequate intake of fruits and vegetables helps to regulate blood pressure.
- Eat moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and nuts. It is important to ensure you have an adequate protein intake, but make sure you go for leaner options, such as white meat. Fish and nuts are also helpful, and provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for heart health. However, you should lower meat intake overall, and also try to incorporate some vegetarian meals.
- Eat moderate amounts of whole grains. Whole grain foods are good for your digestive tract, since they are high in fiber. They also tend to increase satiety, which helps you feel fuller for longer. Because they take longer to digest, they deliver energy slowly throughout the day.
- Eat low-fat dairy. Choose low-fat dairy products in order to support a healthy weight. Saturated fat is one of the main causes of high cholesterol and may increase your risk of heart disease. You should also avoid trans fats.
These general guidelines are helpful and important to keep in mind, but there are also specific foods that can contribute to lowering your blood pressure.
5 foods to help lower blood pressure:
- Beetroot. Some people have strong feelings about beets. Whether you love them or hate them, you should start integrating them into your diet. They are loaded with natural forms of nitrites and nitrates, which — unlike those that are added to foods as preservatives — are actually good for you. Nitrates and nitrites that are natural and not exposed to high temperatures decrease blood pressure. Nitrates and nitrites are found in many fruits and vegetables, with especially high levels in beetroot. Just be careful when preparing them, because they’ll stain just about everything they touch.
- Garlic. Garlic has been used for centuries as a natural medicine for a range of ailments. Today, scientific research shows that garlic has powerful therapeutic components that contribute to improving health conditions, including lowering high blood pressure. A sulfuric compound found in crushed or cut garlic called allicin lowers high blood pressure when consumed regularly. Some studies show that it may even be as effective as some blood pressure medications.
- Salmon. Salmon contains a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower elevated blood pressure in people with hypertension. In addition to improving blood pressure, omega-3 fatty acids also improve lipid profiles by increasing HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) and lowering LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol). In order for this to be effective, try to eat fish at least 2-3 times a week.
- Kale. You’ve probably heard of kale as being a so-called "superfood." It is high in a range of vitamins and minerals, three of which are key to blood pressure health: magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C. Magnesium helps to control blood pressure, but its effect is enhanced when combined with potassium and vitamin C, so much so that it may be as effective as some medications.
- Green Tea. Green tea has been touted in mainstream media for decades because of its powerful antioxidant properties. One element in particular that contributes to improving blood pressure is catechin, a type of polyphenol, which improves blood flow by increasing arterial diameter. For green tea to be effective, it is important to drink two cups (or 500ml) each day.
If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to speak to your doctor about whether taking medication is the right decision for you, but in any case, this must go hand-in-hand with important changes to your diet and lifestyle.