Image of beets. Beets are an excellent source of nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide within the body. Nitric oxide relaxes and dialtes blood vessels and dilates, helping the blood flow more easily and lowering blood pressure.

Ten Foods That Help Lower Blood Pressure

Amber Nason • Feb 02, 2017

In February we are reminded to consider our heart health. For those with, or at risk of, high blood pressure this can be especially important.

Blood pressure measures how hard your blood pushes against your artery walls as it moves through your body. Normally, your blood pressure rises and falls through the day, but if it consistently stays up, you may be diagnosed with high blood pressure (also called hypertension). A blood pressure level of 140/90 is considered high. Visit myhealth.alberta.ca for a breakdown of blood pressure levels and what they mean.

WHY IS HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE DANGEROUS?

When blood pressure is high it starts to damage blood vessels and contributes to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. As the arteries stiffen, the heart has to work even harder, causing heart muscle to become thicker, weaker and less able to pump blood.  Plus, damaged arteries are less able to deliver enough blood to organs for proper functioning, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or even kidney failure.

WHO IS AT RISK FOR HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

The cause of hypertension is hard to determine, but there are several known risk factors:

  • An unhealthy weight
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • An overindulgence in alcohol
  • A family history of high blood pressure
  • A high salt intake
  • Aging
  • A low potassium and calcium diet

Changes to any of these factors, can help reduce the risk for high blood pressure. One of the best ways to lower risk is a change in diet. For example, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet focuses on foods that are high in calcium, potassium and magnesium and low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol. It recommends you eat whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods and reduce your consumption of fats, red meat, sweets, sugared beverages, and foods high in sodium.

SOME FOODS HELP LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE

Dairy – Low-fat dairy products like yogurt and milk are known to help lower blood pressure. In addition to being high in calcium, they are high in vitamin D, potassium, phosphorous, bioactive small peptides. They are also low in sodium and high in protein.

Flaxseed – Studies show that flaxseed reduces both systolic blood pressure (when the heart contracts) and diastolic blood pressure (when the heart relaxes) due to four important compounds: alpha linolenic acid, lignans, peptides and fibre. These compounds have beneficial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the cardiovascular system.

Dark chocolate – Polyphenols (especially flavanols) in cocoa products are associated with the formation of nitric oxide, a substance that widens blood vessels and eases blood flow – and thereby lowers blood pressure. It also contains calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Olive oil – Olive oil has been linked with drops in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Its polyphenols are antioxidants prevents LDL (the potentially harmful form of cholesterol) from oxidation, reducing its contribution to the development of atherosclerosis.

Beets – Beets are an excellent source of nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide within the body. Nitric oxide relaxes and dialtes blood vessels and dilates, helping the blood flow more easily and lowering blood pressure.

Pistachios – Pistachios contain monounsaturated fatty acids and high amounts of phytosterols, which reduce LDL cholesterol oxidization. In fact, healthy diets that include tree nuts have been shown to enhance the effectiveness of exercise and hyptertension medications, and may even result in lowering the dosage of some medications.

Pomegranate – Drinking a cup of pomegranate juice every day for four weeks was linked to a drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Certain flavonoids such as catechins, tannins, and ellagic acid in pomegranate juice have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which help lower blood pressure and reduce arterial plaque.

Fish – Fish is a good source of protein and low in saturated fat. It is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of arterial plaque, and help lower blood pressure.

Whole grains – Whole grains include the entire grain kernel and haven't had their bran and germ removed by refining. They are a rich source of healthy nutrients, including fibre, potassium, magnesium, folate, iron and selenium. In particular, increasing your intake of potassium is linked to lower blood pressure. Plus, whole-grain foods are filling, which can aid in weight control.

Hibiscus – Hibiscus tea is loaded with antioxidants, including phenols and anthocyanins and it boosts nitric oxide production, which can help our arteries relax and dilate better.

Including any or all of these foods into your diet are a great start for a heart healthy lifestyle. However, the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends incorporating a healthy diet with physical activity for best results.

For more information on heart healthy diet tips and exercises, visit www.heartandstroke.ca


REFERENCES

American Heart Association (2016) Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. www.heart.org

Aviram, M. and Rosenblat, M. (2012) “Pomegranate protection against cardiovascular diseases.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. November 18.

Berkley Wellness (2016) "Foods that lower blood pressure."  University of California, Berkley, School of Public Health.

Chronic Conditions Team. (2016) How a Whole-Grain Diet Can Help Regulate Your Blood Pressure. Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials. October 19

Coles, L. T. and Clifton, P. M. (2012) “Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Nutrition Journal. December, 11:106

Ferrara, L. A., et al. (2000) “Olive oil and reduced need for antihypertensive medications.” Archives of Internal Medicine. March 27, 160 (6): 837-42

Government of Alberta (2016) “High Blood Pressure.” MyHealth.Alberta.ca

McGrane, M. M., et al. (2011) “Dairy consumption, blood pressure, and risk of hypertension: An evidence-based review of recent literatureCurrent Cardiovascular Risk Reports. August 1, 5(4): 287-298.

McKay, D. L., et al. (2010) “Hibiscus sabdariffa L. tea (tisane) lowers blood pressure in prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults.” The Journal of Nutrition. February. 140 (2): 298-303

Mohammadifard, N., et al (2015) “The effect of tree nut, peanut, and soy nut consumption on blood pressure: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. March 25, 101 (5): 966-82

Schor, Jacob (2013) “Flaxseed Reduces High Blood Pressure.” Natural Medicine Journal. 62(6): 1081-89

Sheps, S. G. (2016) Can eating more whole-grain foods help lower my blood pressure? www.mayoclinic.org

Stowe, C. B. (2011) “The effects of pomegranate juice consumption on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. May, 17 (2): 113-5

The Heart and Stroke Foundation (2016) The DASH Diet to lower high blood pressure. www.heartandstroke.ca

Ursonie, S., et al. (2016) “Effects of flaxseed supplements on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trial.” Clinical Nutrition Journal. June, 35(3): 615-25

US Department of Health and Human Services (2003) “Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure.”, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Insitute. May.

Heart Health, Healthy Living, Disease Prevention