“Medicine” for Healthy Blood Pressure

Alright, to kick things off with my series of “let food be thy medicine” postings, let’s discuss one of the most common preventable contributors to cardiovascular disease (which happens to be one of the leading causes of death): hypertension, also commonly known as high blood pressure.

There are several medications that can be prescribed to allow an individual to cope with their high blood pressure; however, with most of these medications come risks and complications when combining with other prescriptions. My biggest question, and I will be restating this very question in each posting (you’ve been warned!): Why take medication which has so many potential risk factors, when we can gain control of our health condition through our diet?

High blood pressure can be prevented, alleviated, and even reversed if we take a look at our diet, and see what needs to be subtracted and added. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which is an organization within the National Health Institute (NIH) created the initiative to promote the DASH Diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

DASH Diet guidelines,courtesy of The NIH

This diet focuses on a low-sodium, low-fat diet, with an increase in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes. This diet is very appropriate for the average individual looking to improve their health; however, it will have an excellent impact on those trying to decrease their blood pressure.

Now let’s look at some specific foods we can incorporate into our diets to promote a healthy blood pressure:

BANANAS: Bananas, and other potassium-rich foods, allows our bodies to maintain fluid balance, by linking with sodium within our bloodstream. Less salt present will decrease the pressure against our cellular walls.

SUNFLOWER SEEDS: Sunflower seeds are rich in magnesium, which has been suggested to help lower levels of blood pressure. Just make sure those sunflower seeds are unsalted!

SKIM MILK: Skim milk, as well as other low-fat milk alternatives such as Almond Milk, are high in calcium, which has a healthy effect on our blood pressure. Even more so, calcium works best when taken with magnesium – Making a glass of skim milk and sunflower seeds a great snack!

SALMON, CHIA SEEDS, FLAX SEEDS: All three of these are considered “super foods” in the health realm for several reasons; however, these three power foods have one things in common: they are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Recent studies suggest that a diet rich in Omega-3 can reduce hypertension in an individual. Just make sure those fats you are consuming are healthy unsaturated fats!! Unlike unsaturated fats, saturated and trans fats will increase your blood pressure (and put your at risk for several other unfavorable health conditions).

BLACK TEA: Several studies have shown that caffeine has a positive effect on our blood pressure; however, recent studies have shown that the black tea solids themselves have a lowering effect on both systolic (the squeeze of the heart) and diastolic (the relaxing of the heart) blood pressure.

And I saved the best for last…

DARK CHOCOLATE! Dark chocolate is rich in magnesium and flavanols  – both have been shown to have an effect on lowering blood pressure. Be sure to keep this one in moderation, and more importantly it must be AT LEAST 70% or higher in cocoa content.

Now, those are just a FEW beneficial foods to incorporate into your diet to help gain control of your blood pressure. Now to summarize:
ADD: Foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, flavanols, Omega-3 fatty acids, and black tea solids.
REDUCE/ELIMINATE: Foods high in saturated fat, sodium (keep it below 2,300 mg/day), sugar, and alcohol. Additionally, maintain a healthy weight..excess weight = excess pressure on everything inside of you!

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