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Lowering High Blood Pressure with Heart Healthy Eating

Updated: Apr 28

Written and medically reviewed by Meredith Krayenhoff, Registered Dietitian. Published April 19, 2024.

In the battle against high blood pressure, the kitchen might just be your strongest ally. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and accounts for about half of the deaths from these conditions. While medications can help manage blood pressure, adopting a healthy diet can be equally or even more effective in managing hypertension, with no adverse effects.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the fundamentals of nutrition for high blood pressure and explore dietary strategies to support overall heart health.

Heart healthy foods to lower high blood pressure including fish, vegetables, olive oil, oats

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure refers to the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries. Consistently high pressure strains the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of serious health problems.

Several factors contribute to high blood pressure, including genetics, age, lifestyle choices, and dietary habits. While we can't change our genetics or age, we can focus on modifying our lifestyle and dietary choices - things that are within our control - to improve our blood pressure levels.

Nutrition and Blood Pressure Management

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in managing high blood pressure. A balanced diet rich in whole foods can help regulate blood pressure levels and promote overall cardiovascular health. 

Here are some key dietary principles to consider:

Reduce sodium intake: 

High sodium consumption is strongly linked to elevated blood pressure. Sodium can cause the body to retain water, which increases blood volume and subsequently raises blood pressure. To lower sodium intake, limit the consumption of processed foods, canned soups, salty snacks, and fast food. Instead, opt for fresh, whole foods and flavour meals with herbs, spices, vinegars, garlic, onion, and citrus juices.

Potassium and Magnesium: 

While sodium causes your body to retain water, other electrolytes, such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium help to maintain a healthy balance of fluid inside and outside of your blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure. These nutrients help your blood vessels to relax, and reduce inflammation. Include a variety of potassium and magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as bananas, oranges, potatoes, avocados, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes.

Follow the DASH diet: 

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) emphasizes foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and low fat dairy, to optimize your blood pressure through diet. 

Here's a daily guideline when following the DASH diet:

  • 4-5 servings of vegetables: ½ cup of cooked vegetables, or 1 cup of raw leafy greens, without added salt.

  • 4-5 servings of fruit: ½ cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, without added sugar.

  • 7-8 servings of whole grains: ½ cup of cooked grains, or 1 slice of bread.

  • 2-3 servings of low or no fat dairy: 1 cup of milk/yogurt, or 1.5 oz of cheese.

  • 2 or fewer servings of lean meat and poultry: 3 oz of cooked meat or fish

  • 4-5 servings (per week) of nuts, seeds and beans: ⅓ cup nuts, 2 tbsp seeds, 2 tbsp peanut butter; ½ cup cooked beans/peas/lentils

  • 2-3 servings of fats and oils: 1 tsp of soft oil, 1 tbsp of mayonnaise/salad dressing.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption: 

Excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure. In fact, there is no safe limit of alcohol to prevent hypertension. If you do choose to drink alcohol, limit it as much as possible, and do not exceed 2 drinks in any one day. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines remind us that having 7 or more standard drinks per week significantly increases your risk of developing heart disease or stroke. 

Stay Hydrated:

Drinking enough water is crucial for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Water allows your kidneys to filter out any extra sodium or waste products that would otherwise float through your blood vessels for longer, potentially elevating blood pressure. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day and limit sugary beverages and excessive caffeine, which can contribute to dehydration.

Other Lifestyle Factors

Moderate weight loss: 

Being at a healthy body weight can prevent someone without hypertension from acquiring it, and can lower the blood pressure of someone who has hypertension. If this feels intimidating, don’t worry about large goals. Evidence shows that even 5-10 lbs of weight loss can have a significant impact on chronic disease outcomes. 

The dietitians at In Good Nutrition can help make this task of weight loss feel less daunting, by looking at how to continue to enjoy the foods you love in a satisfying way, while managing portions, eating out, and the caloric density of foods. Many times, when we focus on adding nutritious foods that drop blood pressure, the weight comes off more easily.

Physical activity: 

Aim for 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity 4-7 times per week. This includes any activity that gets your heart rate up a moderate amount, for 10 minutes at a time. These bouts of 10 minutes can be accumulated throughout the day, such as a 10 minute brisk walk 3 times a day. If you have a 15 minute walk to and from work, 5 days a week, you’ll already have achieved your goal. Cycling and swimming are other examples of ways to incorporate some aerobic body movement - find something you enjoy, start small, and see the results add up!

The list goes on: 

Don’t discount the importance of a good night’s sleep, stress management, and quitting tobacco use in the grand picture of managing your blood pressure and heart health. These factors play crucial roles in maintaining optimal health and well-being.

Key takeaways: 

The ability to manage high blood pressure is not just realistic but also empowering. By incorporating these dietary strategies into your daily routine can significantly impact your blood pressure levels and overall cardiovascular wellness. 

Contact us to connect with a registered dietitian who can provide personalized guidance and support in developing a nutrition plan tailored to your specific needs and health goals. By prioritizing healthy eating and lifestyle habits, you can take proactive steps towards managing high blood pressure and enhancing your well-being for years to come.

Take charge of your heart health today and embark on a journey towards a healthier, happier life.


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