High blood pressure, also known as “the silent killer,” is an unchecked epidemic in our nation. This is a worrisome situation as over time, elevated pressure can have disastrous health consequences: stroke, heart attack, blindness and kidney failure. In fact, every thirty nine seconds, we lose another American to a fatal heart attack or stroke, and yet, despite the fact that the largest risk factor for cardiovascular death—high blood pressure—is both reversible and preventable, seventy-eight million adult Americans continue to suffer from this life-threatening condition, and another two million will be diagnosed over the next year. Perhaps even more alarming, fifty-six percent of those already diagnosed with this potentially fatal affliction still do not have their blood pressure under control, with many deterred by the frustrating side effects of medications.
THE GOOD NEWS -Eating the right foods can lower your blood pressure. In fact, lifestyle changes can be just as effective as prescription drugs in reversing and preventing hypertension. The government-endorsed Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was rated the #1 Best Diet Overall by the U.S. News & World Report and has been scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure to the same degree as prescription medication.
WHERE TO BEGIN? Most people associate a blood-pressure-lowering diet with bland foods and deprivation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Although cutting way down on sodium intake is an important step in lowering pressure, it’s the right combination of delicious foods to add into your day that will make all the difference in those millimeters of mercury. Here are 5 surprising and delicious foods in the Blood Pressure DOWN action plan:
Bananas are the most popular fruit in the U.S. They are a delectable, portable and relatively inexpensive fruit filled with fiber as well as many vitamins and minerals. Bananas are Mother Nature’s sweet blood-pressure-lowering medicine. Why you may ask are bananas such an exceptional blood pressure lowering food? Their potassium content. One banana packs a potassium punch of at least 450 mg of potassium. Potassium is also an essential nutrient, and biologically, has the opposite effect of sodium on blood pressure. In essence, potassium lowers blood pressure by balancing out the harmful effects of sodium. It works as a natural diuretic: the more potassium you eat, the more sodium and water you excrete in the urine. Scientists think that potassium also actively relaxes the blood vessels.
This is an important physiological fact. To lower your blood pressure, you need to think beyond just slashing salt. It’s time to shift your attention to ingesting much, much more of Mother Nature’s most powerful blood pressure mineral medicine. Abundant scientific evidence has proven that a shortage of potassium in the diet has a critical role in promoting high blood pressure. Indeed, restricting potassium intake has been proven to cause a substantial rise in blood pressure—even in people with normal blood pressure. A low potassium intake also ups your odds of suffering a stroke. To lower your blood pressure through dietary means, one should aim for a sodium intake of under 1500 mg/day in combination with a potassium intake of 4700 mg. Eating just two bananas a day will help you to reach your daily 4700 mg potassium goal
Another potassium powerhouse food (one avocado contains more than twice as much potassium as a banana, 975 milligrams!), avocados also house a nice amount of additional heart-healthy nutrients. Avocados are actually considered a fruit and as such are the ultimate health food packed with super-heart-healthy monounsaturated fat in addition to an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Avocados are nicknamed alligator pears because (I bet you could have guessed this one) of their pear shape and alligator-like skin. Try using ripe avocado in place of mayo or butter on a sandwich and you will be replacing those artery-clogging fats with a spread of super buttery, creamy, and delightfully tasty ripe avocado and doing your heart and taste buds a favor! Or…try my spectacularly delicious guacamole dip recipe—easy to make and simply packed with blood-pressure-lowering, heart-healthy nutrients.
The science is in. Adults who eat 1000 to 1500 mg/day of calcium (in food) reduce their risk of contracting high blood pressure. So what’s better, taking a supplement or eating calcium from foods? Years ago, a highly comprehensive meta-analysis found that a diet high in calcium had twice the blood-pressure-lowering effect as calcium supplements. How do you possibly get in all that calcium from food? Your best bet is to go for the richest source of calcium out there—plain nonfat yogurt—and eat at least two cups a day. Yogurt also keeps your digestive system in tune. Yogurt supplies your gut with live, “friendly” probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. These are real, live “good” bacteria that promote better intestinal function as well as providing a host of additional health benefits.
Five Tips for Getting Yogurt into Your Day
You just can’t beat a cup of plain fat-free yogurt day to make a huge dent in your calcium prescription for relatively few calories. It can have as much as 400 mg of calcium (plus tons of other vitamins and minerals), all for just about 100 calories. Considering that a cup of plain nonfat yogurt is the top source of calcium, you may want to consider eating yogurt as your go-to snack of choice. Here are some examples of the delicious versatility of yogurt:
- Mix it with seasonings like garlic, dill and parsley and use as a dip for veggies.
- Swirl in some low-sugar fruit preserves and use as a dip for fresh fruit.
- Plop some yogurt on your morning bowl of oatmeal—add a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseeds and fresh berries, and you have a quick and healthy fiber-packed breakfast.
- Use fat free yogurt in place of water in baked goods and pancakes. You will be surprised at how this simple swap can add both taste and nutrition to your recipes.
- For a tasty super-nutritious treat, try my “pumpkin pie yogurt” recipe. Add a few tablespoons of solid pack plain pumpkin (and get another potassium boost too!) to an 8 ounce container of yogurt. A half a teaspoon or so of pumpkin pie spice and two packets of Splenda® with fiber. Mix it all up and top with fat free whipped topping and some finely diced walnuts…YUM!
4. Red Wine
Too much alcohol increases risk for high blood pressure whereas in moderation, red wine soothes the arteries, reduces blood sugar and risk for diabetes. The general medical consensus is that drinking a small amount of red wine daily with food is part of the lifestyle prescription for preventing the onset of high blood pressure and even treating existing hypertension. Red wine contains two substances thought to contribute to its blood-pressure-lowering power: ethyl alcohol, and an array of powerful antioxidant polyphenols (including resveratrol and the procyanidins) switching over to red wine will lower your pressure. To tap into wine’s huge cache of powerful polyphenols, be sure to pick red over white. Red wine has ten times the polyphenol content of white wine, because it is fermented with the skins and seeds of the grape. (White wine is made by quickly pressing the juice away from the grape solids.) On average, red wine contains between 6 and 9 times the amount of polyphenols than white.
One additional advantage of enjoying a glass of wine with dinner is that it encourages you to slow down, relax and truly savor your meal. There is no greater pleasure than to sit down to a leisurely dinner of deliciously fresh whole food, artfully prepared, tempered with a flavorful glass of pinot noir, and shared with friends and family. One caveat: When it comes to drinking alcohol, it is clearly a case of a double-edged sword. One fact is certain: moderation is the magic word, meaning a little is good, and a lot is not better. Wine is beneficial for your health only in moderation.
5. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate lovers rejoice! Believe it or not, this forbidden fruit is actually a magical blood-pressure-lowering medication. What’s the ingredient in dark chocolate that confers so many blood vessel benefits? It’s called “Polyphenols.” Polyphenols is the term used to describe a major class of bioactive phytochemicals scientifically proven to protect against heart and vascular disease. Flavonoids are a subclass of polyphenols (flavonoids account for about two-thirds of our polyphenol intake). Indeed, flavonoids are those plentiful and super-heart-healthy plant chemicals found in high concentration in fruits, vegetables and, you guessed it…dark chocolate! And cocoa contains lots of flavonoids. In fact, dark chocolate has such a highly concentrated amount of flavonoids that it beats out red wine. Remember, to satisfy your chocolate craving and lower your pressure simultaneously, think real cocoa. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder has the highest concentration of flavanoids compared to other chocolate products (followed by unsweetened baking chocolate), plus is low in sugar, fat and calories, so favor this chocolate choice over solid bars when possible. Try my delicious chocolate banana cake recipe—two superb blood-pressure-lowering foods in each bite!
As you can see, you can lower your blood pressure naturally by simply eating a few foods that are affordable and readily available at your local supermarket. No need for deprivation when caring for your arteries! Although medication is highly effective at bringing your numbers down, what you eat can also have a dramatic blood pressure lowering effect. Remember, it’s all in the balance (of sodium and potassium). Aim for slashing the salt as well as packing your plate with potassium-rich foods such as melon, avocado, cooked spinach, white beans, bananas and dark chocolate and you will surely be taking a huge step in bringing your blood pressure numbers down to where they need to be.
Fresh Avocado Dip (Guacamole)
Serve as a dip with low-salt bagel or pita chips, or as an accompaniment to the Salmon Black Bean Quesadillas or Shrimp Tacos with Kiwi Salsa.
2 cups chopped avocado (from 2 medium avocados)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt-free seasoning
6 drops hot pepper sauce
Mash the avocado in a bowl with a fork until desired consistency. Mix in the cilantro, lime juice, garlic powder, ground cumin, salt-free seasoning, and hot pepper sauce. Serve immediately.
Yield 1 1/2 cups
Nutrition per 1/4 cup serving: Calories: 98 kcal Sodium: 6 mg Potassium: 301 mg Magnesium: 17 mg Calcium: 9 mg Fat: 9 g (EPA 0g, DHA 0g, ALA <1g) Saturated Fat: 1 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Carbohydrate: 5 g Dietary fiber: 4 g Sugars: <1 g Protein: 1 g
Jason’s Chocolate Banana Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large ripe banana, mashed (1/2 cup)
3/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1 egg white
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 11 x 7-inch brownie pan with nonstick spray. Whisk together flour, sugar blend, cocoa, and baking soda in large bowl. In another bowl whisk together the bananas, soy milk, oil, egg, egg white, lemon juice and vanilla. Make a hole in the middle of the flour mixture and pour on the soy milk mixture and chocolate chips. With a wooden spoon stir the ingredients together until blender. Spoon batter into pan. Bake about 25 minutes until the center of the cakes springs back when pressed lightly with fingertips.
Nutrition per Serving: Calories: 150 kcal Sodium: 52 mg Potassium: 119 mg Magnesium: 19 mg Calcium: 23 mg Fat: 4 g (EPA 0g, DHA 0g, ALA 0g) Saturated Fat: 1 g Cholesterol: 12 mg Carbohydrate: 27 g Dietary fiber: 1 g Sugars: 9 g Protein: 3 g
*Recipe Source: An excerpt from the book Blood Pressure DOWN by Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D.N, LDN; Published by Three Rivers Press; May 2013. Copyright © 2013 Janet Brill, Ph.D. To learn more about this book please visit DrJanet.com.