May is National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month. Do you know if your blood pressure is in the healthy range? If not, it’s time to find out!
The World Health Organization points to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as one of the most common causes of premature death. High blood pressure (or hypertension) is defined as a systolic blood pressure at or above 140 mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure at or above 90 mmHg.
If you’re among the 970 million people worldwide who have high blood pressure, you can lower it by increasing your physical activity, losing excess weight, reducing your intake of sodium—and adding certain foods to your diet to lower blood pressure naturally. Read on, and then head to the grocery store!
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Just one cup of blueberries a week may help lower your risk of high blood pressure. Blueberries, as well as raspberries and strawberries, contain antioxidants called anthocyanins that protect against hypertension, according to a British and American study of about 157,000 men and women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers explain that these compounds may help relax blood vessels, allowing for smoother blood flow and a lower risk for high blood pressure. How to work them into your diet: Toss them in your morning oatmeal, blend them in with your smoothie, or buy them frozen and sprinkle them in yogurt or on salads.
Plain old Idaho potatoes get a bad rap but this starchy vegetable is high in both potassium and magnesium, two important minerals that can help fight high blood pressure. Research shows that if Americans boosted their potassium intake, adult cases of high blood pressure could fall by more than 10 percent. And many older Americans fail to get enough in their diet, according to the National Institutes of Health. Another study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry last year showed that 18 people who were overweight and had high blood pressure lowered their blood pressure by four percent by eating small, purple potatoes daily. All potatoes—when prepared sans butter and cheese—are a low-sodium food and a good source of fiber, and they’re fat- and cholesterol-free. Tips: Split a baked potato with someone and top with a tablespoon of low-fat or fat-free sour cream and chopped chives or herbs for a tasty snack or side dish. In addition to baked potatoes, halibut, spinach, bananas, soybeans, and kidney beans are also high in magnesium and potassium.
Drinking a glass (8 ounces) of beet juice can lower blood pressure within just a few hours, according to a Queen Mary University of London study published last year in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. The study found that participants with high blood pressure experienced a decrease of about 10 mm Hg after a daily dose of the juice. Researchers reported that the nitrate found naturally in the juice had the same effect as taking a nitrate tablet. And a recent meta-analysis that looked at numerous studies between 2006 and 2012 showed clear reductions in blood pressure, with the systolic blood pressure (the top number) showing the greatest reduction. Where to get it: You can find beet juice at health food stores and specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods. Other nitrate-rich foods include spinach, lettuce, cabbage, carrots and whole beets.
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Jessica DeCostole is a freelance health and nutrition writer and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who contributes regularly to KnowMore.tv. Her articles have also appeared in Redbook, Prevention, and WeightWatchers.com. A Brooklyn native, she recently relocated to Baltimore, MD to complete her dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center.