On Chef Marshall’s Mind: Five Foods to Help Reduce Blood Pressure

This month is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. If you have high blood pressure, you are not alone – about one in three American adults has hypertension. Unfortunately, about twenty percent of those with high blood pressure don’t know they have it. Knowing your blood pressure and working to keep it within the normal range are key things you can do for your long-term health, since hypertension elevates your risk of serious health issues, including stroke and heart disease.

What is a healthy blood pressure? A quick review: your blood pressure reading is made up of 2 numbers, the pressure when your heart is beating and the pressure between beats, when your heart is at rest. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recently updated their guidelines: a blood pressure consistently higher than 130/80 needs at least environmental intervention (changes to diet and exercise) to reduce the risk of long-term health issues.

The good news is that diet is the strongest environmental factor influencing blood pressure, so you can do a lot to bring down your blood pressure just by eating the right foods.

A simple way to help reduce blood pressure is to reduce your sodium intake. You can do this by checking the sodium content on the nutrition facts labels of packaged foods. Opt for low-sodium options that contain less than 140 mg per serving.

In addition, certain foods have been shown to help lower blood pressure. Some of these foods are high in beneficial potassium, calcium and magnesium, which help relax muscles, so veins aren’t as constricted. Here are five foods you should try to include in your diet:

1. Apples – Abundant flavonoids and natural nitrates in apples – especially the skin – lower systolic (the top number) blood pressure.

2. Beets – Again, the naturally occurring nitrates in beets help lower blood pressure.

3. Dark chocolate – Polyphenols in cocoa are involved with the formation of nitric oxide – a substance that widens blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa) contains more flavonoids and is more effective at lowering blood pressure.

4. Fatty fish – Eating omega-3-rich fatty fish three times a week for eight weeks has been linked with a reduction in diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure.

5. Olive oil – In one study, women with hypertension lowered their blood pressure by including polyphenol-rich olive oil in their diets.

And a bonus 6. Pistachios – In one study, one serving of pistachios daily for four weeks reduced systolic blood pressure, perhaps by reducing constriction of peripheral blood vessels.

If you have high blood pressure, make these foods and others like them a regular part of your life.

Take these baby steps and you will love the way you feel!