High Blood Pressure Diet Guidelines
We dive into how to follow a high blood pressure diet, what foods to eat and avoid and lifestyle choices that can help keep your blood pressure within a healthy range.
Nearly one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure—often called a "silent killer" because it usually presents no symptoms (check out these five sneaky reasons your blood pressure is high for more). Fortunately, eating a nutritious diet and leading an overall healthful lifestyle can help keep your blood pressure within a healthy range. Whether you just got diagnosed with high blood pressure or you are trying to make a lifestyle change, these high blood pressure diet guidelines are a good place to start.
What Is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure reflects the amount of blood your heart pumps and the resistance it meets in your arteries: the more blood, and the narrower and more rigid your arteries (healthy vessels are elastic), the higher your blood pressure. The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart has to work to do its job. This is why uncontrolled high blood pressure can sometimes lead to a heart attack or stroke.
There are two values in a typical blood pressure reading: systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The numerator value is the pressure as your heart beats and pushes blood through the vessels, or when they're most open. This is the systolic blood pressure. The denominator is the diastolic blood pressure, or the pressure in the vessels when they relax between heartbeats. Here are the ranges for normal blood pressure, early high blood pressure and high blood pressure:
- Normal blood pressure: below 120/80
- Early high blood pressure: 120/80 to 140/90
- High blood pressure: 140/90 or above
High Blood Pressure Diet Guidelines
Here's what you can do to get your blood pressure back in check. And don't miss our healthy meal plans to help you lower your blood pressure.
Aim for a healthy weight
Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. When you gain weight, the amount of blood circulating through your body increases. This increases the pressure of blood flow against your artery walls, which puts added strain on your heart. Studies suggest that, if you're overweight, losing as little as 10 percent of your current weight can help lower your blood pressure. If you are looking for a place to start, check out these 10 weight-loss tips that actually work (according to science).
Exercise makes your heart stronger so it can pump more blood with less effort. Research suggests that, for some people, regular exercise can improve blood pressure as much as some medications used to treat hypertension. Daily physical activity also can help prevent a "normal" blood pressure from creeping into a risky range—which often happens as one ages. To align with the recommendations for how much to exercise in a week, aim for about 30 minutes of exercise daily. And stick with it: the benefits last only as long as you maintain your exercise regime. Plus, these five best exercises for health are shown to help improve blood pressure and much more.
Try the DASH Diet
Studies show that following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (also known as the DASH Diet) helps lower blood pressure. The DASH diet isn't as much of a strict high blood pressure diet as it is a healthy eating pattern that is targeted at lowering blood pressure and improving heart health. It focused on foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, legumes and lean proteins while limiting added sugar and sodium. To get started on the diet yourself, check out our 7-Day DASH Diet Meal Plan that is perfect for beginners.
Scale back sodium intake
Eating too much sodium can cause you to retain more water, which increases the volume of blood circulating through your body. This translates to higher blood pressure. Most Americans consume too much sodium. To best support a healthy blood pressure, keep your intake at or below 2,300mg per day. If you already have high blood pressure, your doctor may advise eating even less: the American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg daily is most effective for reducing blood pressure. Luckily, there are plenty of easy ways to cut the sodium in your diet, like eating less processed foods, choosing salt-seasonings and more.
Eat plenty of produce
Fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium, a mineral that helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. For this reason, getting enough potassium is crucial to helping maintain a healthy blood pressure. The DASH diet places high priority on getting enough potassium-rich fruits and vegetables for this reason. There are several good food sources of potassium, including bananas, oranges, tomatoes, artichokes, potatoes, spinach, winter squash and leafy greens. For more inspiration, check out these 7 easy ways to eat more vegetables.
Limit alcoholic beverages
Research has found that drinking alcohol is associated with higher blood pressure levels. This could be related to what happens to your body when you drink alcohol, including dehydration, inflammation and more. If you drink, do so moderately—that means one drink a day for women, two drinks for men. One standard drink is about 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. For more, check out how alcohol affects your health.