Eating for Healthy Blood Pressure
Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range is important for reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and peripheral vascular disease.
According to the American Heart Association, healthy blood pressure ranges are:1
Blood Pressure Category Systolic mm/Hg Diastolic mm/Hg
(Upper Number) (Lower Number)
Normal <120 and <80
Borderline High BP 120 to 139 or 80 to 89
High Blood Pressure 140 to 159 or 90 to 99
(Hypertension Stage 1)
High Blood Pressure 160 or higher or 100 or higher
(Hypertension Stage 2)
Acute High Blood Pressure Higher than 180 or Higher than 110
(Immediate emergency care)
What foods can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure?
For most people, the first step in maintaining a healthy blood pressure is to eat less salt. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1500 mg of sodium per day.2
Remember that although many processed foods contain large amounts of salt, unprocessed foods such as artichoke, eggs, spinach, and seafood also can contain the mineral. For this reason, it's important to calculate foods that are naturally high in salt when considering your total daily intake of it.
During the early 1990s, the National Institutes of Health developed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet as part of research to study the effects of diet on blood pressure. Results of the study strongly show a low saturated-fat and total-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods can significantly lower (as much as 5.5 mm/Hg and 3.0 mm/Hg, respectively) systolic and diastolic blood pressure. In addition, the DASH diet offers healthy low-cholesterol and high-fiber options as well as ways to get the protein, calcium, potassium, and magnesium you need for good health.3 Because the DASH diet has many health benefits, the American Heart Association recommends it for lowering blood pressure.4
The DASH eating plan includes 2000 calories per day and:
- Seven to 8 servings of whole grains for energy and fiber
1 slice of whole grain bread, ½ cup of dry whole grain cereal; ½ cup of cooked whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or other whole grains
- Four to 5 servings of vegetables rich in potassium, magnesium, and fiber
1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, ½ cup of cooked vegetables, 6 ounces of vegetable juice
- Four to 5 servings of fruit for added potassium, magnesium, and fiber
1 medium-sized piece of fruit; ½ cup of frozen, fresh, or canned fruit; ¼ cup of dried fruit, 6 ounces of fruit juice
- Two to 3 servings of nonfat or low-fat dairy products for calcium and protein
1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of cheese
- Six ounces or less of meat, poultry, and fish to for protein and magnesium
- Four to 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes per week for energy, magnesium, potassium, protein, and fiber
1.5 ounces or 1/3 cup of nuts, 0.5 ounces or 2 tablespoons of seeds, ½ cup of cooked legumes5
Try these 10 tips to follow the DASH diet and lower your blood pressure:
- Enjoy plain frozen vegetables for convenience and variety
- Relish ready-to-eat veggies such as baby carrots, broccoli sprigs, broccoli slaw, cabbage slaw, and cauliflower
- Sprinkle unsalted nuts on your plain oatmeal, stir them into your fat-free yogurt, or toss them into a garden salad
- Super-size your sandwiches with veggies such as sliced green or red bell peppers, baby spinach, and shredded carrots
- Have plain nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream on baked potatoes or to replace half of the mayonnaise in salad dressings
- Add legumes such as garbanzo beans to your salad, add black beans or lentils to brown rice pilaf, and replace the meat in chili with kidney beans
- Blend delicious smoothies made with a variety of fruit and vegetables
- Add fresh berries to whole grain cereal or stir thawed frozen berries into your oatmeal
- Snack on raw vegetables with a plain yogurt dip
- Delight in a delicious dessert parfait that is layered with plain yogurt, berries, and sliced bananas
In addition to eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and activity can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure. Read how exercise can help you lower your blood pressure.
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1. American Heart Association. What is high blood pressure. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/What-is-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_301759_Article.jsp. Accessed May 1, 2013.
2. American Heart Association. Shaking the salt habit. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Shaking-the-Salt-Habit_UCM_303241_Article.jsp Accessed May 1, 2013.
3. American Heart Association. Managing blood pressure with a heart healthy diet.http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Managing-Blood-Pressure-with-a-Heart-Healthy-Diet_UCM_301879_Article.jsp. Accessed May 1, 2013.
4. Appel et al. A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. N Engl J Med<. 1997;336:1117-1124. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199704173361601. Accessed May 1, 2013.
5. DASH Diet Research. http://dashdiet.org/dash_diet_research.asp. Accessed May 1, 2013.