Just a DASH Will Do
One of the tools your doctor may use to dial back your blood pressure is DASH — Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It’s not a diet but a way of eating. You cut back on salt, load up on fruits and veggies, and round out your meals with whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy.
1. Go Green (and Leafy)
Salt makes your body hang on to more fluid. That bumps up your blood volume and the pressure on your arteries, which make your blood pressure climb. Fill your plate with leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, kale, or collards for a potassium boost. The mineral helps flush sodium out of your body through your pee and relaxes your blood vessel walls.
Recommended daily serving: 3-6 cups (raw leafy veggies).
2. Berry Good for You
The pigments that give blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries their rich colors also come with a benefit for your blood vessels: anthocyanin. It’s a natural compound that can help artery walls become wider and more flexible to lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health.
Recommended daily serving: 2-3 cups (frozen or fresh fruits).
Calcium is a key player for good blood pressure because it helps your blood vessels tighten and relax when they should. Plain, low-fat yogurt is a good way to add calcium in your diet without too much added sugar or fat. Looking for a flavor twist? Throw some berries in for some natural sweetness and even more blood pressure help.
Recommended daily serving: 2-3 cups (yogurt or milk).
4. Fatty Fish
Another good source of calcium is bone-in fish, like canned salmon or sardines. Oily fish like mackerel and sardines also are flush in omega-3s, the fatty acids that boost health and help your heart. Studies on fish oil supplements show they may lower your blood pressure, especially if your high blood pressure is moderate or severe.
Recommended daily serving: 3-6 ounces (fish, lean meat, and poultry).
5. Sprinkling of Seeds
Add unsalted seeds like pumpkin, flax, and sunflower to salads, yogurt, or oatmeal to help lower your blood pressure. Seeds are a source of vital minerals like magnesium, which helps control your blood pressure and relax your blood vessels.
Recommended daily serving: 1-1.5 tablespoons (seeds).
This whole grain is healthy, filling, and low in sodium. It’s also full of fiber, which helps keep your weight and blood pressure under control. Cook your rolled or steel-cut oats with water or low-fat milk. Swap out the maple syrup or brown sugar with raisins or bananas for a touch of sweetness.
Recommended daily serving: 3-5 cups cooked (whole-grain cereal, rice, and pasta).
7. Turn Up the Beet
A study shows that drinking 2 cups of a mix of three parts beetroot and one part apple juice can make your systolic blood pressure (the top number) go down in just a few hours. Men may see a bigger benefit than women. High systolic pressure can raise your chances of strokes. Cooked beets and beet greens, which pack lots of potassium, are a good alternative.
Recommended daily serving: About 2 cups (raw or cooked vegetables, or vegetable juice).
Garlic can add more than just zest to your dishes. It may also have a hand in boosting your nitric oxide levels, which dilates blood vessels. The more relaxed your blood vessels are, the less your heart has to work to pump blood through them. That helps keep your blood pressure down.
Recommended daily serving: 1-2 cloves.
Tree nuts — hold the salt! — like walnuts and almonds can be a great source of healthy fats that help your heart. But for high blood pressure, your best pick is pistachios. They seem to have the strongest effect on lowering both your top and bottom blood pressure readings.
Recommended serving: 1-2 cups per week (nuts).
Drinking pomegranate juice regularly may help chisel away at your blood pressure numbers. But watch out for the added sugar. Also, juices don’t have the fiber you get from the fruit. So be sure to add fiber from other foods to help keep your heart healthy and your bowels regular.
Recommended daily serving: 2-3 cups (fresh, frozen, or canned fruit).
11. Olive Oil
The polyphenols, which are protective antioxidants, in olive oil give it a leg up over other oils. Polyphenols improve blood vessel health and help them stay elastic. It’s a smart choice for a healthy fat. Use it instead of butter, vegetable oil, or canola oil in your cooking.
Recommended daily serving: 2-3 teaspoons (oil, mayo, or salad dressing).
12. Legumes and Beans
A daily cup of peas, lentils, garbanzo beans, or beans can keep your blood pressure in check and even lower it. Legumes and beans are big on fiber and can help ward off coronary heart disease, too.
Recommended daily serving: 1 cup (cooked beans and peas).
13. Dark Chocolate
Don’t get too excited. Turns out that dark chocolate (at least 50% to 70% cocoa) can give you a boost of a plant compound called flavanol. As with garlic, this antioxidant can raise your nitric oxide levels and widen blood vessels. That can make your blood pressure drop a notch. It goes without saying that a little bit of chocolate is all you need.
An occasional nibble.