Thirty-four percent of people in the U.S. have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure (1). While many patients may take medications, following a hypertension diet can also help.
Hypertension refers to the pressure in your arteries (or the blood vessels that carry blood throughout your body) being above normal levels. It can lead to more serious health complications like heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.
A generally healthy diet—with limited processed foods and low sugar and salt intake—will help lower your risk of hypertension or help control symptoms. That’s why the American Heart Association recommends the DASH diet, which broadly involves eating more veggies, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oil. On the other hand, you’ll cut back on saturated fats and sugar-sweetened beverages (2).
Taking a closer look at the big picture, there are a few specific foods that can help you keep your blood pressure in check.
5 Foods That Help with Hypertension
1. Dark Chocolate
Good news for anyone craving a piece of chocolate: It could help your health. While any food is OK in moderation, I know this is one people always try to keep in their regular diet plan, and you definitely can. Many studies support the idea that chocolate can help lower blood pressure, thanks to the flavanols (or powerful antioxidants) in the delicious dessert-like food.
More specifically, one meta-analysis study found that dark chocolate (50% to 70% cacao) can reduce systolic blood pressure—or the pressure involved in pumping blood from the aorta to the rest of the body (3). It can also help lower diastolic prehypertension, or the blood pressure felt between pumps when the heart is filling with blood.
To add more (healthy!) chocolate recipes to your hypertension diet, try these:
Flaxseeds are high in fatty acids, fiber, and a polyphenol known as lignans, which is why researchers believe they might help with hypertension and heart disease. In fact, according to one study, this food could be one of the best dietary ways to relieve high blood pressure (4). Researchers believe this lowering of blood pressure may come from the ligans’ antioxidant effects.
Subjects in the study consumed 30 grams of milled (aka ground) flaxseed every day for six months. You can easily do this by adding a tablespoon of ground flaxseed (which your body also digests better than whole) to smoothies or soups, or even baked goods. For a few of my favorite recipes featuring flax, check these out:
3. Nitrate Vegetables
Increasing your fruit and veggie intake can help lower blood pressure simply by keeping your weight in check. Nitrate-heavy veggies in particular, though, can reduce blood pressure, research finds (5). Nitrate-containing foods work by increasing nitric oxide in the body. You need this compound to help widen blood vessels, which improves blood flow and circulation and therefore, can lower blood pressure levels.
Nitrate veggies include beets (and beetroot juice), as well as leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and collard greens. Carrots, cabbage, green beans and celery also contain nitrates that are good for your blood pressure and cardiovascular system. Many of these veggies are also a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and folate.
You can always snack on these foods on their own, especially cooked beets or raw carrots or celery. To get your fill of these nitrate-heavy foods in a full meal, follow these recipes:
4. Olive Oil
A staple in the Mediterranean Diet (another approach to eating that’s been shown to reduce high blood pressure), olive oil is a staple ingredient. On its own, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has also been shown to help lower hypertension, likely because of the polyphenols, a type of antioxidant (6). Another study points out that if you combine olive oil with nitrate-rich veggies (like those mentioned above), you have a full recipe for fighting high blood pressure (7).
In addition to antioxidants, extra virgin olive oil also contains healthy monounsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory properties.
Look for olive oil labeled “extra virgin” and buy those that come in a dark bottle, as light can make it go bad faster. Aim for about two tablespoons per day. You can find countless recipes that involve olive oil–especially salad dressings—but here are a few of my top go-tos:
Cashews, peanuts, almonds, and pistachios have all been shown to not only reduce the risk of heart disease but also hypertension—a marker of heart conditions. Pistachios may be the type that stands out the most, though most nuts have been associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure (8)(9).
It’s easy to grab a handful of nuts for a healthy fat-filled snack, with a dose of protein, but you can also easily mix them into main dishes. Try these recipes to do just that:
Do you have a high blood pressure? Have you learned to control it with a hypertension diet? Share your stories below or using #nutritionstripped. I want to hear from you!
- American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. (2018, January.) Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2018 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association.
- “DASH Eating Plan.” National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
- Karin Ried, Thomas Sullivan, Peter Fakler, Oliver R Frank, and Nigel P Stocks. (2010, June.) Does chocolate reduce blood pressure? A meta-analysis.
- Rodriguez-Leyva D, Weighell W, Edel AL, LaVallee R, Dibrov E, Pinneker R, Maddaford TG, Ramjiawan B, Aliani M, Guzman R, Pierce GN. (2013, October.) Potent antihypertensive action of dietary flaxseed in hypertensive patients.
Vikas Kapil, Rayomand S. Khambata, Amy Robertson, Mark J. Caulfield, Amrita Ahluwalia. (2014, November.) Dietary Nitrate Provides Sustained Blood Pressure Lowering in Hypertensive Patients.
- Olive Oil Polyphenols Decrease Blood Pressure and Improve Endothelial Function in Young Women with Mild Hypertension.
- Rebecca L. Charles, Olena Rudyk, Oleksandra Prysyazhna, Alisa Kamynina, Jun Yang, Christophe Morisseau, Bruce D. Hammock, Bruce A. Freeman, and Philip Eaton. (2014, May.) Protection from hypertension in mice by the Mediterranean diet is mediated by nitro fatty acid inhibition of soluble epoxide hydrolase.
Mohammadifard N, Salehi-Abargouei A, Salas-Salvadó J, Guasch-Ferré M, Humphries K, Sarrafzadegan N. (2015, March.) The effect of tree nut, peanut, and soy nut consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.
- Luc Djoussé, Tamara Rudich, and J. Michael Gaziano. (2010, February.) Nut Consumption and Risk of Hypertension in US Male Physicians.