Is your blood pressure not as low as it used to be? If you’re getting some borderline readings, now’s the time to take action from a lifestyle standpoint. Fortunately, in mild cases, you may find you can control your blood pressure through lifestyle factors alone.
Whether you inherited a tendency towards high blood pressure from your parents or were unlucky enough to develop it anyway, what you eat and how you live matters. For example, research clearly shows that regular aerobic exercise can lower blood pressure readings by 4 mm Hg or more. That’s significant! But what about diet?
Doctors sometimes recommend cutting back on sodium to lower your pressure. For some people, this does indeed lead to a reduction in blood pressure, although not everyone with hypertension is “salt sensitive.” Still, it’s a good idea to watch your sodium intake if you have hypertension since sodium can make your blood vessels less flexible.
Another dietary change you can make is to eat more vegetables. Research shows people who eat a vegetarian diet have a lower risk for high blood pressure. However, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to add more vegetables to your diet and reap the health benefits. Here are four ways vegetables can help lower your blood pressure.
Vegetables Are a Good Source of Potassium
A diet high in potassium helps offset the effects of too much sodium. When you consume more potassium, your body tends to excrete more sodium into your urine. So, if your diet contains lots of potassium, it helps flush out excess sodium and lower your blood pressure. In fact, some studies suggest that it’s the ratio of potassium to sodium you take is more important from a blood pressure standpoint than the absolute amount of sodium in your diet.
What does this have to do with vegetables? Veggies are one of the best natural sources of potassium. Green, leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms are among the best potassium sources. In contrast, avoid processed foods as much as possible since they are usually lower in potassium and contain large amounts of sodium, thereby upsetting your potassium to sodium ratio.
Some Vegetables Contain Natural Nitrates That Can Help Lower Your Blood Pressure
Nitrates are compounds abundant in some vegetables. What makes nitrates important from a blood pressure perspective is your body’s ability to convert them to a compound called nitric oxide. This production of nitric oxide helps to relax and expand the walls of your arteries, thereby lowering your blood pressure. One of the best sources of plant-based nitrates is beets, a veggie cloaked in the most brilliant shade of burgundy, yet one most people eat too little of.
Is there science behind the blood pressure lowering benefits of beets? In one study carried out at Queen Mary University in London, participants with hypertension who drank a glass of beet juice each day experienced a drop in blood pressure into the normal range – but is it really the nitrates in beets that are responsible for the drop in blood pressure?
In another study, participants drank regular beet juice, a cup every day, while the other drank beet juice with the nitrates removed. After a month, the group who drank the regular beet juice experienced an 8-point drop in blood pressure, more than the drop people typically get with a common blood pressure medication called hydrochlorothiazide. Pretty good return for a single glass of juice. This suggests it IS the nitrates in beets that are relaxing blood vessels and lowering pressure.
If you don’t like beets or beet juice, you can get the same benefits, in lesser amounts, by eating more green, leafy vegetables, cabbage, turnips, carrots, radishes, and Bok choy. Don’t forget you can get a super-dose of these vegetables by making a veggie-rich smoothie.
Vegetables Are Rich in Fiber
Fiber is another dietary component linked with lower blood pressure. In a meta-analysis, a study that looks at the conclusions of a number of studies showed a diet rich in fiber is linked with a drop in blood pressure. Eight weeks of high-fiber eating led to average reductions of around 3 mmHg in systolic blood pressure and 2.5 for diastolic.
Vegetables are naturally high in soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is the type most closely linked with reductions in cholesterol and heart health while insoluble fiber is most effective for preventing constipation. Fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains are other good sources of fiber. On average, Americans get too little fiber – only about half the amount recommended for health. Fiber benefits your heart by lowering blood pressure but also by having favorable effects on blood lipids.
Vegetables Are High in Folate
According to a 2015 study, folate was correlated with a lower risk of stroke among women with hypertension. What’s a good source of folate? Vegetables, of course, along with fruits, whole grains, and legumes. One of the best sources is green, leafy vegetables – not surprising since “folium” means leaf. One way in which folate is beneficial for people with hypertension is because a high folate diet lowers homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage the inner walls of blood vessels.
The Bottom Line
Now, you know why it’s important to eat your veggies if you have high blood pressure. So, you don’t have time to chop up fresh produce? Check out the frozen vegetable section at your local supermarket. Vegetables in the freezer case are flash frozen at their peak of freshness, thereby preserving their nutrients. You’ll still get the health benefits without the prep time.
Look for frozen vegetables with no added salt, sugar, or oils. Steam them using minimal water to preserve their nutrients best. You can always immerse them in a tasty sauce for more flavor or add them to soups, stews, and chili. Be creative and look for resourceful ways to use vegetables – in omelets, on sandwiches, in salads, on pizza, and in smoothies.
However you choose to prepare them, vegetables are healthy for your heart and your blood vessels. For best results, combine a veggie-rich diet with regular aerobic activity. If you’re overweight or obese, work on getting your body weight down. Being too heavy is a strong risk factor for hypertension. Avoid over-the-counter pain relievers, like Advil, as much as possible. These can cause blood pressure elevations in some people.
Finally, check your blood pressures regularly and share the results with your doctor so they can give you additional guidelines to help you bring your readings down.
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WebMD. “High-Fiber Diet May Fight High Blood Pressure”
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