Hypertension is a widespread and very serious condition that proper nutrition can help prevent and treat. Let’s see what to add to the diet and what to avoid in case of high blood pressure.
Arterial hypertension is a condition in which the blood pressure in the vessels, that is the “force” with which the blood is pushed into the circulatory stream, is higher than normal. Usually, blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and two values are considered: systolic pressure, also called maximum pressure, which is the pressure at which the heart contracts and pumps blood into the arteries, and diastolic pressure or minimum pressure, which is that which occurs between two successive contractions, that is, when the heart relaxes.
There are no ideal pressure values, as this varies in relation to age, sex, weight, but also to environmental conditions (temperature for example) and psycho-physical conditions (efforts, emotions, sleep, wakefulness).
However, there are limits to be considered in relation to these variables: we speak of “normal” systolic pressure if this is between 115 and 130 mmHg and “normal” diastolic pressure if between 75 and 85 mmHg. We speak of hypertension when the maximum pressure typical of the individual exceeds 140 mmHg and the minimum of 90 mmHg.
In case of hypertension, the heart muscle becomes tired because it has to push the blood into the arteries harder and in the long run this can damage the vessels. The causes of hypertension are many. In some cases it is due to pre-existing conditions such as kidney problems or atherosclerosis but in most cases there is no single cause.
However, it is possible to identify risk factors that predispose to the onset of hypertension, including: overweight, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, age, familiarity, alcohol abuse, stress, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, and last but not least, incorrect nutrition.
Very often hypertension is asymptomatic and for this reason it is a condition to be kept under control because it can lead to very serious damage, such as ischemia and myocardial infarction, but also renal and cerebral complications.
The treatment of hypertension, if it is diagnosed in time, can simply consist in a change in lifestyle, that is to undertake a healthy diet and an active life, avoiding smoking and overeating. If, on the other hand, it is a serious condition, it will be necessary to resort to therapies that the cardiologist will prescribe. However, no therapy, even pharmacological, can ignore the implementation of a healthier lifestyle.
Diet for hypertension: what to avoid and recommendations
In case of hypertension, diet and nutrition are one of the key factors, both in the prevention and in the treatment of the problem. There are some basic recommendations for those affected:
- Losing excess weight, if there is an overweight condition: a low-calorie and balanced diet, accompanied by adequate physical activity, will be able to make us lose weight to the full gain of our health;
- Reduce salt and avoid sodium sources in the diet: we must consider not only the salt we use to season dishes but also that hidden in some foods such as baked goods, preserved meats, ready-to-eat foods and preserves. The amount of salt that we should consume daily is about 5 g;
- Avoid alcohol: alcohol abuse, as is well known, contributes to increase blood pressure, as well as plasma levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, closely related to heart disease;
- Avoid fatty foods: fats contribute to raising the level of cholesterol in the blood, which in turn increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease;
- Increase the consumption of fiber in the form of fruit and vegetables: the fibers and minerals contained in them help to remove free radicals, which cause damage to blood vessels, and to restore the balance between minerals;
- Consume foods rich in potassium: potassium regulates blood pressure and increases sodium excretion;
- Quitting smoking: smoking causes vasoconstriction and the latter causes blood pressure to rise;
- Keep stress under control: stress causes the body to synthesize hormones that cause vasoconstriction and an increase in heartbeat, factors which, over time, contribute to increasing blood pressure.
High blood pressure: what to eat and how to cook
In mild forms of hypertension, adequate nutrition may be the only therapy, and if drugs are taken anyway, drug therapy is essential to the diet. As mentioned, the first fundamental indication is to drink properly and pay attention to salt, for which it is recommended not to exceed 5 grams per day, corresponding to 2 grams of sodium. Still, if you suffer from high blood pressure, you can further lower your cardiovascular risk level if you follow a calorie-restricted diet.
Regarding the foods to be consumed, an abundant use of vegetables should be made, for their content in water, mineral salts and fibers, but also vitamins and antioxidants. Spinach, artichokes and rocket are rich in potassium, a mineral that helps to counteract hypertension, also contained in fresh fruit.
Legumes are highly recommended because they are sources of vegetable protein and fiber, perhaps to be associated with whole grains as single dishes (think for example of a dish of spelled and chickpeas or of brown rice and lentils). Fish is also an excellent choice, especially blue fish because it is rich in omega 3, good fats for our cardiovascular system.
The best condiment that can be used is extra virgin olive oil, naturally in limited quantities, preferably to be added raw to vegetable dishes or to fish and lean meats, preferably steamed or boiled. Whenever possible, greens and vegetables should be eaten raw.
Among the drinks that lower the pressure, however, we remember the beet juice, the herbal tea with hawthorn and the karkade, also known as hibiscus tea.
The importance of potassium and nitric oxide
Potassium is an important mineral for regulating blood pressure, it seems that it is able to increase the elimination of sodium with the urine, having the effect of reducing blood pressure. The foods that contain the most are vegetables such as spinach, kale, artichokes and rocket and fruits such as bananas, kiwis, apricots and plums.
Nitric oxide, on the other hand, is a compound that is formed starting from the amino acid arginine and seems to have a role in reducing blood pressure as it has a vasodilatory action and an antithrombotic effect. Foods containing arginine are seeds and dried fruit (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds), cereals such as rice, oats and corn and also fish and poultry. Red beets also contain nitrateswhich are transformed into nitric oxide and promote pressure reduction. Both potassium and nitric oxide (or arginine) can be found on the market in the form of supplements, but in this case it is always necessary to consult your doctor before starting to use them, due to possible side effects.
As we have seen, therefore, in case of high blood pressure, green light for vegetables, fruit, legumes, oily fish, olive oil and whole grains. In addition to this, the hypertension diet includes some foods that should be avoided and others, instead, that should be consumed in moderation. For greater clarity, below is the table with the foods to avoid and those to be consumed in moderation if you have hypertension or simply want to prevent it.
|Foods not recommended:||To be consumed in moderation:|
|Salted anchovies||Aged cheeses|
|Rotisserie spit-roasted chicken||Lean cold cuts|
|Foods preserved in brine||You|
|Cured meat||Red meats|
|Nuts and meat extracts||Cookies|
|Salted peanuts||Breakfast cereals|
5 foods that regulate and lower blood pressure
Just as there are foods to avoid or eat in moderation, there are also foods that help us regulate blood pressure. Let’s see the main 5.
As we anticipated above, beetroot and the juice obtained from it could have a role in regulating blood pressure due to their nitrate content that our body converts into nitric oxide, a vasodilator agent, which acts positively on the functionality of blood vessels and consequently contributes to lower blood pressure.
Cocoa, rich in polyphenols, shows strong protective properties for the cardiovascular system, and among these, also antihypertensive activities.
Garlic is known for its regulatory properties against blood pressure and various scientific studies show this. This property is due to the allicin contained in it. However, this compound degrades with cooking and therefore it is advisable to eat raw garlic, preferably crushed or chopped.
4. Flax seed
A study on individuals with hypertension showed that a daily consumption of 30 g of flax seeds has antihypertensive effects, as these seeds are able to significantly lower systolic blood pressure. This action seems to be attributable to alpha linolenic acid, a fatty acid of the omega 3 series of which flax seeds are rich.
In addition to its hypoglycemic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, this spice also has antihypertensive properties, since it acts as a vasodilator which has the opposite effects on blood pressure to vasoconstriction.