If you have high blood pressure you're not alone; around one-third of UK adults are dealing with it. The good news is there are ways you can lower your blood pressure through making simple lifestyle adjustments.
What is high blood pressure?
It’s essentially the force of blood against the artery walls. While this pressure increases and decreases over the day, when it stays elevated over time it becomes known as high blood pressure.
Recorded as two numbers, the high number is the systolic pressure which measures the pressure when your heart pushes blood out. Meanwhile, the lower number, the diastolic pressure, measures the pressure when your heart rests between beats.
According to the NHS, high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher (or 150/90mmHg or higher if you're over the age of 80). Meanwhile, ideal blood pressure is considered somewhere between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. With that being said, it’s worth remembering that what is considered low or high for one person could be normal for somebody else.
Why might you want to lower your blood pressure?
High blood pressure puts unnecessary strain on your blood vessels and heart, as well as other organs like the brain. It’s a sobering and shocking fact that high blood pressure is the most common and preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and is the leading single contributor to all-cause death and disability worldwide.
The good news (phew!) is that reducing your high blood pressure, even just a little, can help lower your risk.
Foods That Lower Your Blood Pressure
While there are medications available to reduce blood pressure levels, lifestyle changes – including eating more and less of certain foods – can help naturally lower it. In fact, diet plays such an important role doctors even have a name for it – DASH: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
It’s not a specific diet, but a way of eating that sees eaters cut back on red meat, sodium and added sugars, and instead filling up on fruit and vegetables along with whole grains, nuts and legumes. With that in mind, here are some of the specific foods that can help lower your blood pressure naturally.
1. Citrus Fruits
Stock up on grapefruits, oranges and lemons as research has found they have antihypertensive properties. One study, which tracked women drinking lemon juice, found that it 'significantly correlated' with lower systolic pressure; the team attributed this cool finding to the citric acid and flavonoid content of the lemon. Go easy on the grapefruit juice though, some studies have found that it can interact with common blood pressure medications, so contact your doctor first.
2. Leafy greens
We all know leafy greens are good for us, but they're especially important if you want to lower your blood pressure. Take spinach; a study found that when people consumed high nitrate spinach soup for a week both measurements of their blood pressure were lowered.
Or try swiss chard - this green wonder is packed full of blood-pressure-regulating potassium and magnesium. A study found that every extra 0.6g of dietary potassium eaten is associated with a 1.0mmHg reduction in systolic pressure and a 0.52mmHg reduction in diastolic pressure.
3. Seeds and Nuts
Seeds and nuts might be small, but they are seriously mighty when it comes to lowering your blood pressure. They make an excellent on-the-go snack, too.
Pumpkin seeds are choc-a-bloc full of magnesium and potassium. They also contain arginine, an amino acid required for the production of nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax and thus blood pressure to reduce.
Chia seeds and flax seeds are also packed full of potassium and magnesium. A study found that people with high blood pressure who consumed 35g of chia seed flour a day enjoyed a reduction of blood pressure.
Prefer nuts to seeds? Go for pistachios - a review found that among all the nuts researched, pistachios had the strongest effect of reducing blood pressure.
4. Olive oil
When it comes to oil, go for olive. Rich in polyphenol, which improves blood vessel health, research has found that olive oil consumption can help lower blood pressure.
5. Dark Chocolate
Chocoholics rejoice, you don't have to give up the good stuff! In fact, studies have shown that consuming flavanol-rich cocoa or dark chocolate can even help to lower your blood pressure. You'll want to opt for the high-quality stuff though, as sugary commercial chocolate is associated with increased cardiovascular risk.
6. Fatty Fish
Craving protein? Go for fatty fish, like salmon and mackerel, as these are high in omega-3 fatty acids which research has shown can help can lower blood pressure. Or pick trout and enjoy a double whammy; not only is it also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but it also contains vitamin D (a rarity for food), which may reduce blood pressure. (While the jury is still out on exactly what role vitamin D plays in blood pressure management, given 1 in 5 of us is said to be deficient in vitamin D, chowing down on trout is probably a wise move).
7. Herbs and spices
Keeping your sodium low is vital for keeping your blood pressure low. But don't worry, that doesn't mean you're destined to a lifetime of bland, boring meals.
One way to jazz up your recipes without ramping up your blood pressure is to swap out salt for more herbs and spices. Not only will they pack a serious flavour punch, but research indicates some of them, like black cumin, cinnamon and ginger, could even lower your blood pressure. And if you're a fiend for garlic, good news! Not only does it pep up plain food, but it may also help boost your nitric oxide levels which is ideal for lowering blood pressure.
Lovely legumes and palate-pleasing pulses are packed to the rafters with fibre, magnesium and potassium, all of which help to lower blood pressure. A review found that swapping out other foods for more beans and lentils lowered blood pressure in people both with and without hypertension.
Other Means to Lower Your Blood Pressure
It’s not all about food when it comes to lowering your blood pressure. Beside from medication, there are other ways you can alter your lifestyle to help lower your blood pressure, including getting enough exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. You’ll also want to limit alcohol and coffee consumption and, if you do smoke, stop.
Stress is a huge issue for many living in the modern world, but if you want to lower your blood pressure, you’ll need to find a way to manage it. Whether that means a drastic lifestyle overhaul or simply introducing a morning meditation ritual, any way you can lower the stress in your life is good news for your blood pressure.