Nutrition for Hypertension
Whether we have a family history of hypertension or our doctor informed us of the condition at a routine visit, this chronic disease warrants attention and care to prevent related health consequences. Hypertension is a condition in which our blood pressure increases as a result of blood vessels gradually becoming clogged with triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. These narrowed passages make it more difficult for our heart to send blood throughout the body, increasing our risk for cardiovascular disease. While everyone’s readings may vary slightly, normal blood pressure is typically around 120/80 mmHg. Hypertension occurs around or greater than 140/90 mmHg. One of the primary ways hypertension can be managed is through nutrition. By being mindful of what we eat and making certain dietary choices, we reduce the risk of high blood pressure complications.
From a nutrition perspective, there are several things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping our blood pressure in check.
Sodium is one nutrient in our diet that can have a big impact on our blood pressure. Consuming a lot of sodium regularly can increase blood pressure. For people with hypertension, it is recommended to keep sodium consumption to under 1,500 milligrams daily. This is equal to one teaspoon! Sodium can be found in processed foods, like potato chips and fast food, as well as deli meats, pickles, and some salad dressings. Read the nutrition label to be mindful of how much sodium is in the food you eat. Preparing meals at home can help reduce the amount of sodium we consume throughout the day. While many recipes include salt as an ingredient for seasoning, try adding half the recommended amount and go from there.
Potassium is another nutrient that plays a role in managing blood pressure. Potassium helps balance out the effects of sodium in our diet. It also helps our blood vessels relax, further decreasing our blood pressure. The recommended amount of potassium per day is 4,700 milligrams. While keeping track of many numbers can be tiring, adding more fruits and vegetables will help you reach your potassium goals. Potatoes, tomatoes and bananas are some of the best sources of potassium due to the high amount they contain! This nutrient is also found in low fat dairy products and fish.
Saturated fat is the third nutrient to watch out for when it comes to managing hypertension through diet. Consuming a lot of saturated fats in our diet can over time clog our arteries through the buildup of LDL cholesterol, commonly nicknamed the “bad” cholesterol. Saturated fats, unlike oils, are solid at room temperature, meaning foods like butter and coconut oil should be consumed sparingly. Choosing leaner cuts of meat, low-fat dairy instead of whole milk, and limiting red meat consumption to 1-2 times per week will help reduce how much saturated fat you consume through your diet. Instead, add heart-healthy unsaturated fat sources to your meals, such as olive oil, avocados, salmon, and nuts, for a nutritious boost!
You may be familiar with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, more commonly referred to as the DASH diet. This eating pattern encompasses these recommendations to help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy by encouraging intake of more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting sodium and saturated fat consumption. It is possible to lower blood pressure through lifestyle changes such as modifying our diet and increasing physical activity. For individualized nutrition support about how to manage hypertension through nutrition, please contact a Registered Dietitian.