Posted on July 13 2021
Blood pressure is a silent killer. But unlike cholesterol, BP has visible signs and should be a wakeup call for everyone.
Our diet has a significant impact on our blood pressure. Salty and sugary foods, and foods high in saturated fats, increase the blood pressure level in our body. Avoiding them can help us maintain healthy blood pressure.
Blood pressure is not a 'disease', but rather a lifestyle borne condition. It can be reversed with a change in lifestyle. The American Heart Association recommends a holistic approach to managing this condition with inclusion of plenty of plant- based foods and stress management.
We all know that sugar and salt keep the blood pressure elevated. But is that all? Let's dive deep into the subject of nutrition here.
This article will look at what foods to eat, what foods to avoid, and how a plant-centric diet can help you lower your blood pressure. As a bonus, I have also included a few healthy Indian recipes for high blood pressure.
All about Hypertension.
High Blood Pressure or Hypertension is a widespread condition in older adults. The physical force exerted by the blood as it pushes against the walls of the arteries is known as Blood Pressure.
Typically, the blood pressure readings are separated by a line and are written in two numbers. The top number represents the systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number represents the diastolic pressure.
The systolic blood pressure, is the pressure in the arteries as the heart contracts pushing the blood forward. Diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes.- Dr. Neal Barnard.
High blood pressure is also known to cause damage to the walls of the arteries. Hypertension, over time, can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
Studies have shown that more men have Hypertension than women at age 45. The case is reversed by age 65, and more women are affected by Hypertension. People with diabetes also have a greater risk of hypertension than those without diabetes.
Are You at Risk for Stroke?
Usually, high blood pressure has no symptoms. However, it still is a contributing factor in around half of all strokes. This makes Hypertension the most significant single risk factor for stroke.
During sleep or exercise, your blood pressure can go up and down over a day. These short-term changes do not cause a stroke. But it can lead to damage to the blood vessels and can eventually cause a stroke if your blood pressure stays high over a long period.
If you have one or more of these risk factors, you are more likely to have high blood pressure:
- You are over the age of 50.
- Family history of high blood pressure.
- Overeating salt or sugar.
- Sedentary lifestyle.
- Being overweight.
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol.
Sometimes, high blood pressure can be an effect of health conditions, such as:
- Kidney disease.
- Obstructive sleep apnoea.
- Pregnant women can develop pre-eclampsia, which causes high blood pressure
- Lupus (immune disorder)
How does high BP affect memory?
Recent studies have shown that Hypertension at any age can speed up cognitive decline, affecting everything from your verbal skills to memory.
Dr. Neil Barnard argues that a little bit of high blood pressure can take your edge of short-term memory. However, limited evidence available at the moment that suggests Hypertension affects long-term memory.
Though hypertension itself might not affect long- term memory, but is often accompanied with cholesterol. Cholesterol lowering drugs such as statins do affect long term memory significantly.
A study published by JAMA internal medicine collected medical records from over 11 million people and concluded that people who took statins to lower cholesterol were four times as likely to report memory- loss.
Hypertension causes damage to blood vessels, resulting in plaque and other tissue buildups, which can break free and move with blood flow only to get trapped in smaller vessels. This blockage can cause clots that prevent blood filled with oxygen and nutrients from traveling to the area of the body it supplies. If clots or other blockages prevent oxygen from reaching cells in the brain responsible for memory, those cells die, inhibiting that function.
For example, vascular dementia, one cause of dementia, may very well be caused by decreased or lack of blood flow to the brain.
"The key is prevention, and the time to do it is middle age," Dr. Barnard. "By taking measures to reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease, you can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer's."
The complicated relationship between salt and Hypertension:
Salt, is mainly sodium, is a mineral that occurs naturally in foods. Sodium may cause your blood pressure to increase.
According to Dr. Michael Greger, different foods have different forms of sodium present in them. For example, MSG or monosodium glutamate is a form of sodium added to food (especially Chinese and Korean) that can increase high blood pressure.
While we are so concerned about adding a little bit of salt to our foods, one must understand that over 75% of the salt humans consume actually comes from processed foods!
So instead of cutting salt from your cooking at home, why not just stay away from cured meats, salty snacks and junk foods containing MSG. For example, half a pizza will give you over a 100% of your daily sodium requirement!
It is recommended to limit daily sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams. (A teaspoon of salt has about 2,400 milligrams of sodium.)
So of course you want to avoid salty junk food, but I strongly suggest adding a little iodized salt to your daily cooking.
How does a plant-based diet help in blood pressure management?
We can get into the discussion of the best diet to prevent/ reverse hypertension, but what does science say?
Multiple studies across the globe, including the one above show that vegan's have lower levels of hypertension/ diabetes and body mass compared to non- vegetarians.
According to Dr. Klaper, a plant-baes diet rich in potassium, magnesium, and low on salt and sugar is the ticket to lowering your High Blood Pressure.
Another interesting study I came across was by John McDougal, where over 1600 people were able to drop their cholesterol, hypertension and bodyweight in as little as seven DAYS!
The participants ate a low- fat, starch based diet that was plant- centric. They were allowed to eat unlimited calories as long as it was low- fat and plant based.
Example of such foods would be rice and daal, mashed potatoes with gravy, whole wheat bread/ roti and curries or sauted veggies.
For a customised meal plan to help you reverse hypertension, click here.
It's actully really delicious and simple food, minus the cheese, butter, ghee and oil's. But no ghee!!! Watch this:
Another way to flush out sodium from the diet is the eat foods that are high in potassium. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you flush out.
According to Dr. Klaper, world renowned physician who educates people about healing through food, "Most vegetables are a good supply of potassium, so again, those big salad, those hearty vegetables, those big plated steamed veggies are good for you." Dr. Klaper recommends green vegetables and fresh salads 2-3 times a day.
So how you can add potassium rich greens to your daily diet. Maybe palak paratha instead of regular paratha, maybe phudina and dhaniya chutney instead of coconut chutney, maybe amaranth daal instead of plain daal. The options are endless!
Foods rich in sugar, salt, processed foods, dairy products, etc., turn the artery walls into rigid pipes.
Additionally, Dr. Klaper also recommends drinking herbal teas such as jasmine tea and hibiscus tea that help relax and dilate the blood vessels in our body and lets the pressure come down.
What does science say about the use of oils such as olive oil?
Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD, is a physician and author who vehemently stresses the importance of whole food plant-based for not just lowering high blood levels but for the overall well-being of our mind and body.
He recommends avoiding "oil, dairy, sugar, caffeinated coffee" as it injures the endothelial cells in our body every time we consume one of these products.
According to Mr. Esselstyn, "any drop of oil, say olive oil, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, palm oil, and a cracker, or only a piece of bread oil" should be avoided in case of Hypertension.
To support his argument, Esselstyn draws reference from a scientific article titled "Olive, sunflower and palm oil intakes have a similar function in healthy young subjects."
All the 'supposedly' healthy oils contain lecithin molecules (present in, milk, cream, dairy) and carnitine (present in non-plant based foods).
Not only do these particles directly affect your blood pressure, but oil's are also empty calories, unnecessary for the body.
Therefore, Esselstyn suggests avoiding these oils since they will enable disease arrest and reversal.
Eating with High Blood Pressure: 9 Foods and Drinks to Avoid.
Some foods can relieve Hypertension, while others can cause substantial increases in blood pressure.
People can prevent or reduce high blood pressure by avoiding the following foods and drinks:
- Avoid processed salt (sodium): Salt, is one of the most significant contributors to high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Sugar: Studies have found that sugar can increase your blood pressure in several ways. Sugar, significantly sugar-sweetened drinks, also contribute to weight gain in both adults and children.
- Alcohol: Consuming large amounts of alcohol can dramatically increases blood pressure. Heavy alcohol use also increases the risks of obesity, stroke, heart failure, and cancer.
- Caffeine: The caffeine present in tea, coffee, cola, energy drinks, etc., are known to cause short-term spikes in blood pressure.
- Processed foods with trans or saturated fat: Reduce saturated fats and avoid trans fats to keep the heart-healthy. Trans fats are artificial fats that tend to increase packaged foods' shelf life and stability.
- Dairy products: Consumption of dairy products such as cheese and yogurt have been associated with elevated blood pressure sue to their high sodium levels. Dairy has also been associated with diabetes, obesity and cancer.
- Canned soups: Canned soups are rich in sodium. Similar amounts are contained in canned and packaged broths and stocks, and hence they elevate our blood pressure.
- Frozen pizza: The combination of ingredients in frozen pizzas is high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. Frozen pizza can have significantly high levels of sodium which increases the chance of Hypertension.
- Animal meat: It is not natural for our body to digest animal meat. the process of digestion leads to the release of particles that elevate blood pressure.
Trans food raises your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, and it lowers your good (HDL) cholesterol levels, leading to an increased risk of Hypertension.
Trans fats are especially poor for your health since it increases the dangers of High Blood Pressure and poor heart health, including an increased risk of:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Saturated fats primarily found in dairy products such as:
- Full-fat milk and cream
Plant-based foods contain healthful polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Food that helps in lowering High Blood Pressure.
Dietary intervention, mindfullness techniques, and other lifestyle modifications can help reduce high blood pressure while also lowering the risk of associated conditions.
Following are the foods backed by scientific evidence that can help in lowering high blood pressure.
Whole Grain: Roti, whole wheat pasta, unpolished rice, and other foods rich in carbs and starches that are not refined Whole grain products are full of dietary fiber, and therefore, they're a lot better for your body than refined white flour.
So switch to brown rice instead of white and homemade phulka's instead of breads. Aim to include 2-3 servings of grains per day. Worried that carb's lead to weight gain? The very opposite is true. Read this:
Vegetables: Vegetables are a storehouse of potassium, magnesium, and fiber that helps in bringing your blood pressure down. For an exceptionally good functioning gut, aim to bring in 20 different kinds of vegetables in your diet per week.
Following are a list of veggies that are rich in potassium, magnesium, and fiber:
- Green peas
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
Fruits: Fruits filled with nutrients can lower your blood pressure. The potassium in bananas helps in lowering the tension in the walls of your blood vessels. It also helps get rid of sodium which raises blood pressure.
Do not be scared of fruits, embrace them. If there is one thing in my nutrition program that helps clients the most in terms of improving skin health, improving blood sugar levels, boosting energy levels and even losing weight, it is ensuring they have 3-5 servings of fruits per day.
Stock up on the following fruit options to help lower your high blood pressure
- Musk melon
Nuts and Seeds: Nuts, seeds, and beans contain a good amount of magnesium. Magnesium is an essential nutrient that helps regulate your blood pressure and helps blood vessels relax.
Nuts and seeds also have fiber and plant compounds that protect you from cancer and heart disease. In addition, these food options act as an easy, portable snack and make great salad toppings. Aim to consmune 1 tbsp of nuts or seeds with every meal.
Consume low or no-salt versions of:
- Chia seeds
Pulses and lentils: Lentils and pulses have this very unique compound called resistance starch. Resistance starches act as food for the gut flora (gut bacteria). When our gut feeds on these resistance starches, they release something called SCFA's or short- chain fatty acids. These SCFA's help reduce cholesterol levels in the body and imporve blood pressure. Aim for 2-3 servings of lentils/ pulses everyday.
What Is the DASH Diet?
DASH or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension is a diet recommended for people who want to treat or prevent Hypertension and reduce their risk of heart disease.
The DASH diet primarily focuses on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This diet was created after researchers found out that high blood pressure was much less common in people who followed a plant- centric diet.
Hence, the DASH diet highlights the importance of fruits and vegetables. In addition, the DASH diet is low in salt, fat and, added sugars.
Since this diet reduces salt intake, scientists believe this could be one of the main reasons people with high blood pressure can benefit from this diet.
According to the regular DASH diet program, a person is encouraged to consume no more than one teaspoon (2,300 mg) of sodium per day. Similarly, the lower-salt version recommended to a person on the DASH diet is no more than 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day.
Foods to eat:
- Nuts and legumes
- Non-tropical vegetable oils
Foods to avoid:
- Saturated and trans fats
- Sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages
How NOT to wreck your heart?
Be sure to read the below article for more clarity:
Count on these five tips to protect your heart, your arteries, and the rest of you.
- Avoid tobacco: The smoke from cigarettes, pipes, cigars, etc., is bad for the heart, lungs, and arteries.
- Be active: Exercise and any form of physical activity act as a shield against heart disease and other chronic conditions. Physicians and doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise throughout the day.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Extra pounds, especially around the belly, can strain the heart and lead you toward diabetes. Losing just 5% to 10% of your starting weight can make a huge difference in your blood pressure and blood sugar level.
- Enliven your diet: A plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fat, good protein, herbs, and spices are essential to lower your blood pressure. Avoid consuming processed foods, salt and surgery foods, rapidly digested carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, potatoes, and the like), soda, and other sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Avoid alcohol: Switch to sparkling water, fruit infused water and lime- soda's instead. Avoid adding salt's and sugar to your mocktails. Use fruits to naturally sweeten them up.
Simple recipes for Hypertension management:
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