What you eat and drink can have an enormous effect on blood pressure, helping you to either lower blood pressure naturally or make it worse over time. There are three food additives – partially hydrogenated oil, sodium, and sugar – that have the worst and biggest impact on increasing blood pressure. But they aren’t the only offenders. You’ve got to avoid certain foods if you’re trying to lower high blood pressure.
Consider the following as enemies number one, two and three as you work to regain heart health and get blood pressure under control.
1. Fried Fast Food (Partially Hydrogenated Oil)
Artificial trans fats are created through the process of hydrogenation, in which an unsaturated fat is turned into a semi-solid trans fat by the addition of hydrogen. These types of trans fats are so bad for our heart health that the FDA has banned them.
However, you may still find some foods that contain trans fats for at least a few more years. And foods that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can list 0 grams trans fat on their Nutrition Facts labels. While this amount is small, it can add up quickly.
Consuming small amounts of trans fats over and over again causes fat buildup in the lining of your arteries and blood vessels. This excess fat prevents blood vessels from contracting and expanding normally, which both damages the arteries and contributes to increased blood pressure.
You can sleuth out trans fat by looking for “partially hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “vegetable shortening” on ingredient lists. The foods that have the highest chance of containing partially hydrogenated oil are: fried fast food, packaged baked goods, some margarine and vegetable shortenings, some microwave popcorn, non-dairy creamers, and refrigerated doughs and biscuits. If you see an item with partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient list – even if the Nutrition Facts panel lists 0 trans fats or the package says “trans fat free” – your best move for controlling high blood pressure is to return it to the shelf.
2. Restaurant Meals (Sodium)
Sodium is the mineral that negatively impacts blood pressure the most. Most people get far more sodium than the recommended daily amount of 2,300 milligrams. For people with high blood pressure, a diet of chronically high sodium can make it harder for the kidneys to release body fluids, which increases blood pressure. This puts strain on your arteries, making them less elastic and decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. As a result, your heart has to work even harder to pump blood through your system. Over time, this can cause stroke, heart attack, chest pain, kidney disease, sexual dysfunction and even vision troubles.
While using less salt in your cooking and seasoning at home can help, the vast majority of sodium actually comes from foods you eat outside of the home. Restaurant meals and takeout are the number one culprit for excess sodium.
To counteract sodium when dining out, look for meals that contain a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, fish, nuts, and dairy. These meals tend to be higher in beneficial minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which can blunt the impact of a high-sodium meal.
3. Sweet Beverages (Added Sugar)
Sugar is another “s” word that can be just as bad for blood pressure as sodium. It’s been linked to high blood pressure both directly and indirectly. A diet that’s high in added sugars contributes to weight gain in both children and adults, often leading to excess belly fat. And carrying excess weight, especially around the abdominal area, puts you at high risk for having high blood pressure.
More directly speaking, eating foods that contain added sugars raises uric acid levels in the blood, which decreases the production of nitric oxide. Since nitric oxide is needed to help blood vessels remain flexible, it’s important to limit added sugars. Over time, low levels of nitric oxide can cause blood vessels to become stiff, which increases blood pressure and puts more strain on the heart.
Added sugars come from many places in the diet, but a disproportionate amount is found in sugar-sweetened beverages. As a category, beverages like soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices, sweetened drink powders, and sweet cocktails are the single highest source of added sugars in the standard American diet.
To help control high blood pressure, ditch the sugar-sweetened beverages in favor of mostly water. For something sweet, pick a low- or zero-calorie drink with a touch of fruit juice or a natural sweetener such as monk fruit or stevia.
Discover more ways – and more foods – that you should eat or avoid as you fight high blood pressure: