There is no disputing that nutrition is a major modifiable lifestyle factor that can influence hypertension.
Hypertension is now the most common of all circulatory conditions1 with 34% of Australians over 18 having had a high blood pressure reading or taking medication for the condition. So how can nutrition affect our blood pressure and what can we add into our diets to help support our circulatory system?
Our diet in Australia has changed significantly over the last 30 years, with consumers moving away from preparing and cooking their own meals from fresh produce to an over-reliance on packaged, processed and fast foods. Although the food marketers promote the convenience factors of these foods, there is no escaping the fact that they can be deficient in vital nutrients and also harmful when eaten in large quantities.
So the key recommendations to prevent and/or manage hypertension can be summed up with two very simple guidelines:-
1. Avoid packaged, processed and fast foods
Packaged, processed and fast foods tend to be high in salt, additives and preservatives, high in saturated or trans-fats and low in fibre – all factors that can increase blood pressure.
Australians are consuming up 10 times more salt than they need, with high sodium consumption prevalent from the age of 2 years.2 80% of this salt is found in processed foods with the main offenders being sauces, spreads and condiments, potato crisps, processed meat and meat products, including sausages, meat pies, sausage rolls and chicken nuggets, cheese and pizza.
These foods also contribute large amounts of kilojoules for little nutritional value, so cutting back can also assist with weight management – obesity being another contributing factor to hypertension.
2. Fill your diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, plenty of water and lean protein
Fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrains are not only high in fibre, but also packed with health supporting vitamins and minerals which play an important role in supporting our circulatory system and preventing /managing high blood pressure. With 4 out of 5 Australian not eating the required amount of fruit and vegetables to sustain their health 3 increasing daily intake can play a huge part in lowering blood pressure.
Vegetables can help lower blood pressure in a couple of ways:-
- They contain fibre which helps to keep blood sugar levels even
- They contain micronutrients which also have a positive effect on blood pressure, for example:-
Beetroot – Scientists at Queen Mary University, London conducted research funded by the British Heart Foundation and results showed that, “Patients with high blood pressure who drank a daily 250ml glass of beetroot juice experienced an average decrease in blood pressure of about 8/4 mmHg (which for many patients brought their blood pressure levels back into the ‘normal’ range).” The nitrates found in beetroot are also present in other vegetables, in particular leafy greens.
Potassium and magnesium – two minerals that reduce blood pressure are found in abundance in fresh fruit and vegetables as well as nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
Swapping processed meat for good quality protein and fish will not only reduce salt and fat, it will also deliver greater nutritional support. Heart protective plant proteins like lentils and beans and oily fish like salmon and sardines, which provide valuable omega-3 fatty acids 4, can play a huge part in managing hypertension as part of a balanced diet.
Assessing diet and promoting healthy eating plays a major part in preventing and managing hypertension, in some cases sorting out nutritional intake can remove /reduce the need for medication and in turn, improve overall health and resilience. Qualified nutritionists can play a major part in helping people to make that dietary shift.
For more information on managing hypertension naturally, check out our Exercise Physiology blog on Managing Hypertension with Exercise.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey 2014/15 (4364.0).
- Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/salthowmuch/Pages/howmuchsaltareweeating/howmuchsaltandsodium4551.aspx
- Omega-3 fatty acids and blood pressure 2010 School of Medicine and Pharmacology, Royal Perth Hospital Unit, University of Western Australia and the Cardiovascular Research Centre, Perth, Western Australia, Australia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20196972