9 Superfoods for High Blood Pressureby Holly Pevzner Health Writer
Getting diagnosed with high blood pressure (or what doctors call “hypertension”) might make you think you’re destined for a lifetime of meds. But that’s not always the case. In fact, people with hypertension who make healthy changes to their meals, like adding vegetables and reducing salt, can lower their systolic blood pressure as effectively or even better than those who take meds, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. While a healthy overall diet is key, these standout superfoods will help get your numbers where you want them.
Go Big on Beans
When you think potassium, you probably picture bananas. But white beans clock 173 more milligrams of potassium per serving. (Adzuki beans, great northern beans, soybeans, and pink beans all have more potassium than bananas.) Why does that matter? “Potassium-rich foods help you excrete sodium, lowering your blood pressure,” says Desiree Nielsen, R.D., author of Eat More Plants. In fact, eating a cup of potassium-rich beans every day for 10 weeks can decrease systolic blood pressure by an average of 2.25 points, according to research.
Eat Your Oats
“A higher consumption of rolled oats, steel-cut oats, and other whole grains is associated with a reduction in blood pressure,” says Kimberly Parks, D.O., an integrative cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “Three servings a day can lower systolic blood pressure an average of 6 mmHg.” Plus, according to the American Heart Association, eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers the risk of heart disease by up to 28% and helps people maintain a healthy weight.
Snack on Berries
“The flavonoids in blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are wonderful for blood pressure,” Kathy McManus, R.D., director of the department of nutrition at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Eating a cup of blueberries daily can improve blood vessel function and decrease systolic blood pressure, according to a study in The Journals of Gerontology. This is likely due to anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid that gives blueberries their color. (All berries contain anthocyanins, but blueberries have among the highest levels.)
Make Spinach Your Side Dish
“Leafy green veggies, especially spinach and lettuce, are high in natural nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide,” says Nielsen. “Nitric oxide is known to help lower blood pressure.” One to two daily servings of nitrate-rich produce is enough to lower blood pressure for 24 hours, according to a study in Clinical Nutrition Research. Bonus: Leafy greens are rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, too. “These are all critical minerals that help balance the effects of sodium on blood pressure,” says Nielsen.
Pile on the Pistachios
Of all the tree nuts, pistachios reign supreme for lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The reason? They’re rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, magnesium, potassium, and other compounds that have a direct impact on improving blood pressure. Shoot for a 1-ounce serving of unsalted nuts every day (about a handful), with pistachios at the top of the list.
Pour Yourself Some Beet Juice
It doesn’t sound terribly tasty, we’ll give you that. But drinking beet juice is an easy way to reduce blood pressure, says a recent report in Biomolecules. “Beets contain nitrates, which your body converts to nitric oxide,” says Parks. “Just one cup of beet juice a day can lower systolic blood pressure by 8 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 4 mm Hg.” (As with leafy greens, nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more easily.) BTW, while researchers have primarily studied beet juice, it’s likely you’ll get benefits from beets as well.
Bone Up on Low-Fat Dairy
The famed DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) recommends two to three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, to help lower blood pressure. Here’s why: Dairy products typically include potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium, which work together to help keep blood pressure stable. One study found that people who consumed at least five servings of yogurt weekly were 16% less likely to develop high blood pressure.
Serve Up Salmon
Research in the American Journal of Hypertension found regularly consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like certain fish, can reduce blood pressure as effectively as lifestyle changes like exercising. If you eat 1 to 2 grams of these fatty acids a day, you’ll likely reduce your systolic pressure. More than 2 grams a day, and both systolic and diastolic pressure can dip. (A 3-ounce serving of wild salmon has 1.8 grams of omega 3s.) Not a fish eater? No worries: Walnuts, firm tofu, avocados, and navy beans are other good bets.
Sprinkle With Seeds
“Unsalted seeds are high in potassium, magnesium, and other minerals that are great for blood pressure,” says Nielsen. “Potassium helps kidneys excrete sodium which might otherwise elevate blood pressure. And both potassium and magnesium relax blood vessels, which can help lower blood pressure.” Some seeds to consider: Chia, pumpkin, whole flaxseeds, and sunflower. Sunflower seeds also contain a compound that helps prevent blood vessels from narrowing, according to a study in the Chemistry Central Journal.