Along with exercising and losing weight, revamping your diet can help you get your blood pressure under control. To lower your numbers, you’ll want to give these food groups a starring role in your meals and snacks:
- Vegetables, Fruits, and Legumes—A high intake of plant foods is definitively linked to lower incidence of high blood pressure. Produce contributes fiber, potassium, and magnesium, three nutrients that have been associated with lower blood pressure.
- Whole Grains—A 2009 study showed that men with the highest intake of whole grains had about a 20% lower risk of developing high blood pressure compared to men with the lowest intake of whole grains. Similar results have been found in women.
- Low-Fat Dairy—A diet that includes 2 to 3 daily servings of low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, has been shown to aid in blood pressure control. Researchers aren’t yet sure what ingredients in dairy foods are responsible for the benefit—it may be the calcium or vitamin D, the milk proteins, or some combination of these ingredients.
- Lean Proteins—For overall heart health, choose proteins that are low in saturated fat, such as fish and shellfish, skinless poultry, lean meat, and egg whites. In addition, go out of your way to add more vegetarian proteins—including beans, lentils, and soy foods like tofu and edamame—to your meals. Some research shows that plant proteins are more beneficial for lowering blood pressure than animal proteins.
- Healthy Fats—Substituting some of the carbohydrate—particularly refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, and sweets—in the diet for heart-healthy fats has been shown to reduce blood pressure. The best sources of quality fats are nuts, seeds, avocado, fatty fish (like salmon and sardines), and olive and canola oil.
And of course, you’ll need to carefully control your sodium intake. Major health organizations now advise keeping sodium levels below 1500 milligrams per day. I admit, this is not an easy task; following a low-salt diet will definitely require some careful planning and creativity in the kitchen. The majority of packaged foods are high in sodium, so you’ll need to carefully read labels before choosing products. Your best bet is to make whole foods—like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, and healthy fats (without any added salt)—the core of your diet.
To get you started, here’s a sample menu illustrating how to incorporate foods from these categories into an A+ day of eating!
Breakfast: Bowl of oatmeal made with skim milk and topped with fruit (berries or chopped apples)
Oatmeal is a whole grain, and, unlike many cereals (which contain added salt), a serving of plain oats from the canister has virtually 0 milligrams sodium. A diet rich in low-fat dairy products like skim milk has been shown to aid in blood pressure control.
Lunch: Sliced grilled chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, onion, and a thin spread of mustard or reduced-fat mayo. Pair with a generous helping of baby carrots, sliced bell pepper sticks, or other veggies.
Deli meats can have up to half your day’s sodium allotment in just one serving, so making your sandwich with plain grilled chicken breast (slice it up yourself) is a smart way to slash sodium at lunchtime.
- Handful of unsalted nuts or sunflower seeds. Nuts and seeds are a rich source of heart-healthy fats as well as magnesium.
- 6-ounce container of nonfat yogurt. Yogurt is rich in calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.
Dinner: Broiled/steamed/grilled salmon fillet seasoned with lemon and any herbs and seasonings (skip the salt). Serve with sautéed greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc.) dressed with lemon or balsamic vinegar and half a baked white or sweet potato. For dessert, savor an ounce of 70% dark chocolate (flavonoids in chocolate have been shown to reduce blood pressure), or enjoy a cup of potassium-rich cantaloupe chunks.