Hypertension has become a major public health problem since it is one of the underlying factors in developing cardiovascular disease. Approximately 1 billion people worldwide suffer from hypertension, and in the European countries this number is still increasing.
For years, a sodium-restricted diet was one of the cornerstones of hypertension therapy and little attention was given to the role other nutrients might play in the management of blood pressure. Today, evidence from laboratory investigations, clinical trials and epidemiologic studies demonstrates that foods providing nutrients such as polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds may be beneficial in the management of hypertension.
In the 1990s, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study found that a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in total and saturated fat was beneficial in lowering blood pressure in people with both normal and elevated blood pressure (EBP).
Foods Beneficial for controlling Blood Pressure
Some foods seem to independently lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of hypertension. The following is a summary of these foods and their possible mechanisms for affecting blood pressure.
Eating vegetables rich in dietary nitrate and other critical nutrients may be an accessible and inexpensive way to manage blood pressure.
Beetroot juice is a highly concentrated source of nitrate, providing more than 10 times the amount of nitrate found in other vegetable juices (approximately 27 mg/L) which may help relax blood vessel walls and improve blood flow. In the body the nitrate is converted to a chemical called nitrite and then to nitric oxide in the blood. Nitric oxide is a gas that widens blood vessels and aids blood flow which helps to decrease the systolic blood pressure.
Cocoa products such as dark chocolate and cocoa beverages may have blood pressure (BP)–lowering properties due to their high content of plant-derived flavanols. It possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is believed to promote cardiovascular health and also improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
As we age, our blood vessels become less flexible and less able to expand to let blood flow and circulate normally, and the risk of hypertension also increases. Arterial stiffness and blood vessel dysfunction are linked with cardiovascular disease — the number one cause of deaths worldwide.
It is important to make lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure, including following a diet low in saturated fat, low in sodium and high in potassium, magnesium and fiber making them a part of a heart-healthy diet. Including 30 g of mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts) to your diet, resulting in significant decreases in systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure.
The flax plant (Linum usitatissimum), which dates back to ancient times, not only yields linen fibers for cloth, it also yields health benefits. Its edible seeds—rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an omega-3 fat related to those in fish), lignans (plant estrogens), and fiber (including soluble polysaccharides)—have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and other potentially beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system.
Including 30 grams of ground flaxseed per day lowers systolic blood pressure by an average of 15 mmHg and diastolic pressure (the lower number) by about 7 mmHg in those with hypertension. It can be added to yogurt, cereals, and smoothies, sprinkled over salads and cooked vegetables, and used in baking.
Sesame oil is used in cooking and as a flavour enhancer. It’s high in mono- and polyunsaturated acids (PUFAs) — the good kind of fat that cuts cholesterol and it’s low in saturated fats – the kind of fat that’s bad for you. It also contains two unique powerful antioxidants called sesamol & sesamin and vitamin E which help to lower the blood pressure and promotes heart health by reducing LDL cholesterol.
One 2006 study published in The Yale Journal of Biological Medicine investigated the effects of hypertensive adults supplementing with sesame oil daily for 45 days and found that sesame can be a great way to naturally lower blood pressure.
Different types of tea contain varying levels of polyphenols that may offer protection against hypertension. In addition, Hibiscus tea, produced from the Hibiscus sabdariffa (HS) plant, is used in many Asian and African cultures as a treatment for high blood pressure.
Many people aren’t aware of the blood pressure lowering benefits of hibiscus. It appears to boost nitric oxide production, which could help our arteries relax and dilate better. Regardless, an updated review acknowledged that the daily consumption of 2 cups of hibiscus tea every morning may indeed significantly lower blood pressures in people with hypertension.
Without side effects, the benefits of hibiscus tea and related preparations make this plant a worthy inclusion in your herbal medicine cabinet.
The bioactive ingredient in garlic thought to be responsible for its hypotensive effect is S-allylcysteine which helps to promote the vasodilation by increasing nitric oxide production and lower the diastolic blood pressure.
In addition to S-allylcysteine, garlic contains other bioactive compounds that may enhance immune function and have anitioxidative, hypolipidemic and procirculatory effects.
Berries are rich in a variety of nutrients, including vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2011) found that consumption of anthocyanins, a subclass of flavonoids found abundantly in blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries, was associated with an 8% lower risk of hypertension among subjects in two large prospective cohort studies. The effect was most striking for blueberries; in both studies, consumption of more than one-half cup serving of blueberries per week was associated with a 10% reduction in hypertension. The authors theorize that dietary anthocyanins may promote healthy blood pressure by hindering vasoconstriction.
Soy foods contain large amounts of isoflavones, polyphenols that appear to enhance cardiovascular health. Isoflavones “dilate the vessels by increasing the release of nitric oxide,” explained Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Soymilk makers for home use are widely available, and people who use them stay fresh, homemade soy milk is much better tasting than packaged products. And it will have no additives.
Dietary Patterns Promoting Healthy Blood Pressure
In addition to the variety of foods that have been shown to improve blood pressure and lower the risk of hypertension, there are certain dietary patterns that also appear to have a favorable influence on blood pressure. In general, diets rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and unsaturated fats and oils such as coconut oil and sesame oil with minimal intakes of meat and high-fat dairy foods, seem to bolster healthy blood pressure. Following is a summary of specific dietary patterns and their potential for managing healthy blood pressure levels.
Vegetarian and Vegan Diets:
Several mechanisms have been proposed for the favourable effects of a vegetarian diet on blood pressure. Plant-based diets offer increased vitamins, polyphenols, potassium, polyunsaturated fat, and dietary fiber, as well as minimal saturated fat and cholesterol. The variety and balance of nutrients that vegetarian diets provide may act singly or together to promote vasodilation, help regulate renin, angiotensin, aldosterone metabolism, and lower blood viscosity. In addition, the significantly lower BMI seen among vegans may contribute to the benefit conferred by a diet composed entirely of plant foods.
The Mediterranean diet, a traditional dietary pattern consumed in Greece, Italy, and Spain, is characterized by liberal consumption of fruits and vegetables, seafood, legumes, and nuts, and minimal intake of meat, processed grains, and sweets. The Mediterranean diet, like vegetarian diets, is high in potassium and dietary fiber, which may favourably affect sodium metabolism and promote healthy blood pressure.
After all being said, diet may achieve small decreases in blood pressure but research has shown that even slight reductions may dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.