Written by Jordan McElwain — Updated: Thursday, July 6, 2023
Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure. Your blood pressure is elevated when consistently higher than 130/80. High blood pressure (hypertension) often has no symptoms, especially in the early stages. Because of this, many people are unaware that they have it, which is why hypertension is sometimes referred to as "the silent killer."
High blood pressure is more prevalent within certain populations. People who are overweight, smoke, and have certain chronic health conditions are at a higher risk for high blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure causes damage to your arteries and can lead to complications such as stroke, heart attack, kidney disease, and heart failure. High blood pressure has also been linked to cognitive dysfunction and dementia. The good news is that hypertension is easy to diagnose, monitor, and treat if you know what to look for.
There are two types of hypertension with different causes: primary and secondary. Primary hypertension is the most common type and generally develops over several years. It doesn’t have a single cause, but certain factors increase your risk. These risk factors include family history, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, poor diet, and high stress. Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition. Conditions that can cause high blood pressure include kidney disease, diabetes, adrenal gland tumors, thyroid disease, and sleep apnea. Managing these underlying conditions will go a long way to improving your blood pressure.
Certain medications like over-the-counter cold medications, steroids, and NSAID pain relievers can also lead to high blood pressure. Regardless of which type of hypertension you're at risk for, lifestyle choices significantly affect your blood pressure. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, having excessive caffeine, and insufficient exercise are all modifiable factors that can cause or worsen hypertension. Diet can play a huge role in managing your blood pressure. Knowing which foods can lower your blood pressure is a great way to control hypertension.
People with high blood pressure are often prescribed daily medications to lower their blood pressure. While these medications are very effective and sometimes necessary, they can have unwanted side effects. However, there are several foods that you can eat to help lower your blood pressure naturally. Foods high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can help to bring your blood pressure back to normal. Many of these food choices have other health benefits too! Try incorporating some of these into your diet for improved health and wellness.
Most berries are high in antioxidants and fiber. One type of antioxidant, anthocyanins, has been shown to reduce blood pressure when consumed regularly. Some berries contain anthocyanins, including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Berries can be added to cereal, yogurt, or a breakfast smoothie. They also make a great mid-afternoon snack.
Beets are high in nitric oxide, a vasodilator that widens and relaxes the blood vessels, reducing the pressure on the vessels. Nitric oxide is a naturally occurring compound in the body, but people with high blood pressure may have difficulty using it. Adding foods rich in nitric oxide can help overcome the difficulty.
Beets can be added to a salad or eaten on their own. They make a great side dish to any meal. Beet juice also contains essential nutrients, but be sure to find beet juice with no added sugar or juice your own beets.
Sweet potatoes, or yams, are high in vital nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Higher potassium intake will help your body to excrete more sodium, which helps lower your blood pressure. Fiber can help lower your cholesterol and improve your gut microbiome, which can help you keep your blood pressure controlled.
Sweet potatoes make a great side dish. Try substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes.
Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and collard greens, are high in nitrates and potassium. Nitrates are another naturally occurring vasodilator that can help lower your blood pressure. Potassium and magnesium in leafy greens also help your body regulate blood pressure. However, be aware that if you are on blood thinners because staying consistent with your potassium intake is important to prevent blood clots.
Leafy greens can be added to a salad, cooked as a tasty side dish, or blended into a smoothie. Kale chips are a great snack and are easy to make at home in your oven.
According to the American Heart Association, two servings of fatty fish per week can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Naturally occurring Omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon and black cod are a great way to get the recommended amount of Omega-3s.
Add fish to your weekly routine by having grilled salmon or mackerel with a salad.
Bananas contain approximately 422 milligrams of potassium. Other potassium-rich foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and avocados can also increase your potassium intake. The FDA recommends consuming between 2,600-3,400 milligrams of potassium per day.
You can add sliced bananas to whole-grain cereal or oatmeal. Bananas also make a great morning snack and are a great addition to a fruit smoothie.
Oats are high in a specific type of fiber called beta-glucan which has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Other whole grains have similar efficacy when it comes to lowering blood pressure.
Consider starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal. The fiber will help you feel full longer and improve your digestion. You can also substitute rolled oats for breadcrumbs in some recipes.
Garlic has both antifungal and antibacterial properties and has been shown to reduce blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and cholesterol. Garlic is a great way to add flavor without adding salt.
Add garlic to any savory recipe for enhanced flavor.
Fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut are rich in probiotics. Probiotics help improve the gut microbiome, which aids in digestion and can help improve blood pressure. Other fermented foods include apple cider vinegar, miso, and tempeh.
While fermented foods can be an acquired taste for some, you can begin by incorporating apple cider vinegar in salad dressings or drinking a kombucha tea.
Lentils and other legumes are high in protein and fiber. They are also high in iron, which can help your body build more red blood cells. Incorporating lentils and other legumes, such as beans or chickpeas, will improve your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Add more legumes to your diet by using chickpeas in a salad. Lentil soup is an excellent starter for any meal.
Pomegranates are high in antioxidants and other essential nutrients that help prevent high blood pressure. They have also been shown to prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Pomegranates are a great addition to Greek yogurt for a healthy dessert. They also add a sweet tang to salads. Pomegranate juice also includes antioxidants, but check the label for added sugar.
Some nuts, specifically walnuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts, are high in Omega-3s, which can help improve your blood pressure. They have been shown to improve the lining of blood vessels, which can improve heart health and help maintain good blood pressure.
Unsalted nuts are best for optimal heart health. Add them to oatmeal, yogurt, or a salad to add some crunch to your snack.
While you can’t do anything about your genetics, there’s a lot you can do to maintain healthy blood pressure. Regular exercise, specifically aerobic exercises like walking, improves cardiovascular health and helps your body maintain healthy blood pressure. If you are overweight, losing weight can help. For every 20 pounds you lose, you could drop your systolic blood pressure by 5-20 points.
Limiting caffeine and alcohol will also reduce your blood pressure. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor that causes blood vessels to get smaller, increasing blood pressure. Nicotine is another common vasoconstrictor that causes high blood pressure. Quitting smoking can lower your blood pressure by 10-20 points.
Improving sleep and addressing possible sleep apnea can be a significant factor in lowering your blood pressure. Many people with sleep apnea are unaware they have the problem, but it causes strain on the heart and prevents blood pressure from naturally dropping at night. Over time this affects your blood pressure and your overall cardiovascular health. If you often wake up tired or snore, a sleep study will determine if you have sleep apnea.
Stress is another common cause of high blood pressure; improving sleep can help lower stress levels. Other ways you can reduce your stress include:
High blood pressure is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States. Due to its asymptomatic nature, it can be difficult to tell if you have high blood pressure. Checking your blood pressure periodically during an annual physical or wellness visit is essential, especially if you're at risk. You can help control your blood pressure by adding these blood pressure-lowering foods to your diet and making small lifestyle changes.