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High blood pressure and diet

Alternative Names

Hypertension - diet

Information

Making changes to your diet is a proven way to help control high blood pressure. These changes can also help you lose weight and lower your chance of heart disease and stroke.

Your health care provider can refer you to a dietitian who can help you create a healthy meal plan. Ask what your blood pressure target is. Your target will be based on your risk factors and other medical problems.

HEART HEALTHY DIET

Eat foods that are naturally low in fat. These include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

  • Read food labels. Pay special attention to the level of saturated fat.
  • Avoid or limit foods that are high in saturated fat (more than 20% of the total fat is considered high). Eating too much saturated fat is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Food high in this type of fat include: egg yolks, hard cheeses, whole milk, cream, ice cream, butter, and fatty meats (and large portions of meats).
  • Choose lean protein foods. These include soy, fish, skinless chicken, very lean meat, and fat-free or 1% fat dairy products.
  • Look for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on food labels. DO NOT eat foods with these ingredients. They are very high in saturated fats and trans fats.
  • Limit how much fried and processed foods you eat.
  • Limit how many commercially prepared baked goods (such as doughnuts, cookies, and crackers) you eat. They may contain a lot of saturated fats or trans fats.
  • Pay attention to how foods are prepared. Healthy ways to cook fish, chicken, and lean meats are broiling, grilling, poaching, and baking. Avoid adding high-fat dressings or sauces.

Other tips include:

  • Eat foods that are high in soluble fiber. These include oats, bran, split peas and lentils, beans (such as kidney, black, and navy beans), some cereals, and brown rice.
  • Learn how to shop for and cook foods that are healthy for your heart. Learn how to read food labels to choose healthy foods. Stay away from fast food restaurants, where healthy choices can be hard to find.

DASH DIET

The low-salt Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is proven to help lower blood pressure. Its effects on blood pressure are sometimes seen within a few weeks.

This diet is rich in important nutrients and fiber. It also includes foods that are higher in potassium, calcium, and magnesium lower in sodium (salt) than the typical American diet.

DASH diet

DASH diet

The goals of the DASH diet are:

  • Limit sodium to no more than 2,300 mg a day (eating only 1,500 mg a day is an even better goal).
  • Reduce saturated fat to no more than 6% of daily calories and total fat to 27% of daily calories. Low-fat dairy products appear to be especially beneficial for lowering systolic blood pressure.
  • When choosing fats, select monounsaturated oils, such as olive or canola oil.
  • Choose whole grains over white flour or pasta products.
  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Many of these foods are rich in potassium, fiber, or both.
  • Eat nuts, seeds, or legumes (beans or peas) daily.
  • Choose modest amounts of protein (no more than 18% of total daily calories). Fish, skinless poultry, and soy products are the best protein sources.

Other daily nutrient goals in the DASH diet include limiting carbohydrates to 55% of daily calories and dietary cholesterol to 150 mg. Try to get at least 30 grams (g) of daily fiber.

Check with your provider before you increase the potassium in your diet or use salt substitutes (which often contain potassium). People who have kidney problems or who take certain medicines must be careful about how much potassium they consume.

Low-Sodium Diets for High Blood Pressure

Any amount of salt is bad for your health.

The correct answer is myth. Salt contains sodium. Your body needs sodium to work properly. Sodium helps your body control many functions. But too much can be bad for you. If you have high blood pressure or heart failure, you may have to limit how much salt you eat every day.

To lower high blood pressure, you should limit how much sodium you get to:

The correct answer is 2,300 mg per day. For some people, 1,500 mg a day is an even better goal. Ask your doctor how much sodium you should have. Also ask about ways to limit salt in your diet.

Which is most likely to be low in salt?

The correct answer is fresh vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in salt. Canned foods often contain salt to preserve the color of the food and keep it looking fresh. Try to buy fresh foods whenever possible.

Foods that are low in sodium may be labeled:

The correct answer is any of the above. Even if you see one of these terms, it's best to check the label for the exact salt content. Choose products with less than 100 mg of salt per serving.

Which seasoning is low in sodium?

The correct answer is pepper. When you cook, you can replace salt with other seasonings. Fresh garlic, herbs, pepper, and lemon are also good choices. Avoid packaged spice blends. They often contain salt. Over time, you won't miss the salt in foods.

Which food is always high in salt?

The correct answer is all of the above. It's best to steer clear of these salty foods, as well as smoked meats, ham, salami, and anchovies. Other salty culprits to avoid include soy and Worcestershire sauces, tomato and other vegetable juices, and most cheeses.

Tap water may contain salt.

The correct answer is fact. Home water softeners add salt to water. If you have one, limit how much tap water you drink. Drink bottled water instead.

Which salad dressing can help you follow a low-sodium diet?

The correct answer is oil and vinegar. Most bottled salad dressings and salad dressing mixes are high in salt. Dressing your salad with oil and vinegar is the healthiest way to go.

Antacids may contain salt.

The correct answer is fact. Some antacids and laxatives have a lot of salt in them. If you need these medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist which contain the least amount of salt.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is high in:

The correct answer is all of the above. Besides being rich in these nutrients, the DASH diet has much less salt and saturated fats than the typical American diet. This diet can lower blood pressure, sometimes within weeks. Check with your doctor to learn if DASH is a good choice for you.

Images

DASH diet
Low sodium diet

References

American Heart Association Nutrition Committee; Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, Carnethon M, Daniels S, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006 Jul 4;114(1):82-96. PMID: 16785338 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16785338.

James PA, Oparil S, Carter BL, Cushman WC, Dennison-Himmelfarb C, Handler J, et al. 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: report from the panel members appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8). JAMA. 2014 Feb 5;311(5):507-20. PMID: 24352797 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24352797.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is the DASH Eating Plan? Available at: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash. Accessed October 7, 2014.

Victor RG. Arterial hypertension. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 67.

Victor RG, Libby P. Systemic hypertension: Treatment In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, et al. eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 44.

Review Date: 
5/3/2015
Reviewed By: 
Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.