High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects more than 100 million Americans. It's one of the primary risk factors for heart disease.
But you can take control of high blood pressure — starting in your kitchen. And you don't need to buy special foods or eliminate your favorite treats.
By focusing on small, heart-healthy changes to your eating plan, you can make a positive difference in your health. Partner with your healthcare provider to discuss the best ways to keep your heart in tiptop shape.
Getting started with a hypertension eating plan
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan is a way to lower blood pressure without medication. It's based on National Institutes of Health (NIH) research.
The DASH guidelines focus on foods that are lower in sodium and higher in potassium, calcium and magnesium, which lower blood pressure. When you follow the DASH plan, you eat plenty of:
- Low-fat dairy
You also eat moderate amounts of:
- Whole grains
To get the most benefits for your heart, eat less of:
- Red meat
- Sweets and desserts
- Fats like oils and butter
When you plan your meals, look at food labels. Try to find foods low in saturated fat and total fat. And look for foods that have 0 grams of trans fat.
Tips to reduce sodium
Sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. Even if you don't salt your food, you might be getting more sodium than you think. It hides in foods we know and love. But you can slash sodium from your plate by watching out for these unexpected sodium sources:
- Packaged and prepared foods: Many frozen meals, snack foods and other prepackaged foods contain a lot of sodium. Even if the foods don't taste salty (like pudding or a granola bar), they can contain high amounts. Check the label of these foods before buying and try to find lower-sodium alternatives. Most adults should aim to get less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium each day.
- Chicken and poultry: Buy fresh or frozen poultry that doesn't contain a sodium solution or salty seasonings. Avoid poultry with labels that say "broth," "saline" or "sodium solution."
- Condiments, dressings and sauces: Salad dressings, soy sauce, dips, ketchup and other sauces may contain high amounts of sodium. Look for a lower sodium option or use smaller amounts of the high-sodium types.
- Canned and frozen veggies: Frozen and canned vegetables can be a great way to eat more produce but watch for high-sodium sauces or seasonings. Choose plain vegetables without added salt, sauces or seasonings. Add low-sodium flavorings at home, like fresh herbs, onions or garlic.
Blood pressure-friendly meal ideas
Eating with hypertension doesn't need to be complex. Many everyday foods that are easy to prepare can become part of a healthy meal plan.
If you're used to grabbing packaged foods or getting takeout for your meals, "home cooking" can seem daunting. So make the change gradually. Try out breakfast ideas one week, then add lunches the following week. These quick and easy meals don't require much prep time, and your blood pressure will thank you.
Try these meal ideas for some inspiration:
Start your day with a heart-healthy breakfast, such as:
- Oats: Choose unsweetened oatmeal (instant, steel-cut or old-fashioned) and top it with blueberries and a splash of low-fat milk.
- Yogurt with granola and fruit: Sprinkle low-fat yogurt with your favorite berries and two tablespoons of low-fat granola.
- Quick egg with veggies: Whisk an egg with a splash of low-fat milk and cook with chopped spinach, mushrooms and peppers.
You may need to wake up a few minutes earlier to pack your lunch, but the health benefits are worth it. Fight the afternoon slump with a low-sodium power lunch:
Shredded chicken wrap: Cook chicken in advance or buy low-sodium canned chicken. Cooked chicken usually has less salt than cold cuts (lunch meats). Use a whole-grain wrap or bread and add a slice of low-fat cheese. Throw in some red peppers and cucumbers for added crunch.
Power bowl: In a bowl, toss reduced-sodium deli turkey breast, baby spinach or mixed greens, unsalted nuts, dried cranberries, diced apple and reduced-fat feta cheese. Top with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Hummus with veggies: Dip crunchy vegetables like mini carrots, celery sticks and bell peppers in your favorite hummus flavor. Add a serving of nuts for extra protein.
Cooking a healthy dinner doesn't need to be overwhelming. Personalize these combinations with your favorite fruits and vegetables:
- Pork or beef tenderloin with vegetables: Flavor pork or beef tenderloin with garlic or herbs before baking. Combine it with baked sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli or green beans sauteed in olive oil. Serve with whole-grain bread and sliced apples or pears.
- Vegetarian chili: Buy no-salt-added canned beans and diced tomatoes. Add chili powder, ground cumin, cilantro, garlic and onions. Rinse the beans and toss all ingredients into your slow cooker. Let it cook all day. For more heat, add sliced jalapeño peppers or ground red pepper. Serve with shredded low-fat cheese and a fruit salad.
- Quick mini pizzas: Use whole-grain English muffins as your pizza base. Toast them and top with low-sodium tomato sauce, low-fat mozzarella cheese and your favorite chopped vegetables. Broil for a few minutes until cheese is melted. Serve with grapes or chopped melon on the side.
Other ways to manage hypertension
You can improve your blood pressure even more when you combine healthy eating with these other steps:
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Move more, ideally most days of the week.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Talk to your doctor about quitting smoking.
- Take medications as prescribed.
- Make quality sleep a priority.
- Find ways to manage stress.
Your provider is your partner in hypertension management
If you're dealing with high blood pressure, you don't have to go it alone. Your healthcare provider can help you find ways to manage it with nutrition and other lifestyle tips. Schedule an appointment with your provider to start living your healthiest life.
Sources: American Heart Association, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute