Nearly half of US adults have high blood pressure, according to 2018 data from the American Heart Association, and the number of deaths from high blood pressure increased by almost 38%. The good news: In many cases, it can be controlled by dietary changes alone. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet — which avoids salt, alcohol and caffeine and emphasizes vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains — has been shown to reduce your blood pressure in just two weeks. Some foods are especially beneficial; load your plate with these six and protect yourself from heart attack and stroke.
Beet greens are rich in magnesium, antioxidants and potassium, a mineral that balances the effects of sodium in the body. A number of studies link dietary potassium with reduced blood pressure, and several meta-analyses show high potassium intake drops the risk of stroke by about 25%. Other high-potassium foods include potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, spinach, lima beans, zucchini and tomatoes.
Try this: Chop beet greens and sauté with leeks, garlic, black olives and red pepper flakes; toss whole beet greens with diced sweet potatoes, white potatoes and olive oil and roast until tender; mix beet greens with steamed green beans, tomatoes and feta cheese, and drizzle with a garlicky lemon dressing.
Pomegranates are high in polyphenols, antioxidants with a beneficial effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In one study, people who drank a cup or more of pomegranate juice daily showed a decrease in both systolic (the maximum pressure your heart exerts while beating) and diastolic (the amount of pressure in your arteries between beats) numbers.
Try this: Toss pomegranate seeds with shaved Brussels sprouts, chopped pecans and a lemon-olive oil dressing; make salsa with pomegranate seeds, chopped grapefruit segments, red onion, serrano peppers and lime juice; toss grilled shrimp with pomegranate seeds, shaved carrots and arugula.
Pistachios are rich in healthy fats, magnesium, potassium and other compounds that reduce blood pressure. In one study, people with high LDL cholesterol who ate one serving a day of pistachios had lower systolic blood pressure. Additional studies have suggested other nuts may also have a beneficial effect on blood pressure and blood vessel function.
Try this: Make pesto from pistachios, basil, spinach, olive oil and garlic; purée yogurt, honey, cardamom, saffron and pistachios and freeze in an ice cream maker for healthy ice cream with a Middle Eastern flair.
Yogurt and other low-fat dairy products may protect against high blood pressure. One review found a link between low-fat dairy, especially yogurt and milk, and reduced risk of hypertension. In another study, women who ate five or more servings of yogurt a week showed a 20% reduction in their risk for developing high blood pressure. Researchers believe calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and other nutrients in dairy play a role. In addition, dairy products contain peptides, compounds with bioactive properties shown to affect blood pressure.
Try this: Combine low-fat yogurt, quick oats, flax seeds and honey and refrigerate overnight for instant breakfast oats; sauté baby spinach with garlic, curry powder and cumin seeds and stir in low-fat yogurt for a creamy Indian side.
Get the recipe for Strawberry Pistachio Frozen Yogurt (pictured above.)
Flax is high in omega-3 fats, lignans and fiber, which help protect against high blood pressure. In one study, people with hypertension who ate flax for six months showed a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure; whole flax seed has a more powerful effect than flax oil. Other seeds, like pumpkin and sunflower seeds, are also high in potassium and magnesium and may have similar effects on blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health.
Try this: Grind flax, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and use as a healthy breading for grilled chicken or fish; add ground flax, yogurt and pistachios to waffle mix; stir flax seeds into almond butter for a crunchy sandwich spread.
Beets are high in polyphenols and nitric oxide, a compound that reduces inflammation and promotes vasodilation (widening of arteries) to reduce blood pressure. In one study, people who drank beet juice mixed with apple juice showed a reduction in systolic blood pressure only six hours later; other studies have shown similar results. Vegetables, especially leafy greens, and garlic also increase nitric oxide in the body, reduce blood pressure and protect against hypertension.
Try this: Thinly slice beets, toss with olive oil and minced rosemary and roast until crispy; purée cooked beets with tahini (sesame seed paste), olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and cumin and top with black sesame seeds for a vibrant hummus.