With a diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) comes an immediate list of dos and don’ts – especially in terms of what you can and can’t eat. It can sometimes be hard to sort through what you should do first to take care of your heart health without becoming overwhelmed.
The one thing you should certainly do is take your diagnosis seriously, even if your doctor downplays the severity of it. With nearly one out of every three adults in the United States having high blood pressure, it can be easy to brush it off as an unavoidable condition of modern life. But hypertension is not only a serious health signal from your body; it’s also preventable and controllable.
Since every individual is different, it’s important to take some time to focus on the personal lifestyle modifications that are both doable and will make the biggest impact for you. As you learn more about your condition and the best ways to lower your blood pressure, keep the following commonly held food myths in mind, all of which center around the eating advice you may hear when you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure. And you may need to take them with a grain of salt (pun intended).
Myth: You just need to watch your salt intake
Truth: Sodium and salt do contribute to high blood pressure. And it will be important for you to learn where most of the salt in your current diet is coming from (hint: most of it probably comes from meals you eat outside of your home, ie: take-out, restaurant meals, and fast food). If you don’t eat many meals outside of your home, you should next evaluate the sodium in the packaged foods, meal helpers, and snacks in your pantry.
But salt isn’t the only ingredient that matters for people with hypertension. In fact, you may not eat much salt at all. Other food additives—namely hydrogenated oils and added sugars—can be just as dangerous for your heart health as salt and sodium are.
Hydrogenated oils and added sugars lead to high blood pressure by causing weight gain and making arteries more rigid over time. These food additives are found most often in sugar-sweetened drinks, packaged baked goods and snacks, refrigerated doughs and biscuits, non-dairy coffee creamers and fried fast food.
Myth: Taking medication is more important than eating well
Truth: For many people with high blood pressure, medication is a necessary therapy in order to get the condition under control. However, some people prefer to try lifestyle medications first, since once you start taking blood pressure medication you will probably be taking it for life. Also, taking medication does not mean you don’t need to also make the other lifestyle changes that will help make your heart healthier.
In addition to taking medication (or in an effort to try to avoid it), it’s extremely important for people with hypertension to focus on eating more fresh, whole foods that contain the beneficial vitamins and minerals your heart needs. Foods like leafy greens, vegetables, beans, fish, whole grains, seeds and nuts, and dairy should have an appearance in your meals and snacks several times a day, every day.
Myth: Alcohol doesn’t affect your blood pressure
Truth: Since alcohol isn’t particularly salty, many people think it doesn’t have an effect on high blood pressure. Additionally, you’ve heard that drinking red wine can have heart health benefits. So alcohol’s role in hypertension can be confusing.
Alcohol does play a role in high blood pressure, and for 10% of the population, hypertension is the result of too-high alcohol consumption. Consuming an average of three drinks per day is the average threshold for when alcohol negatively affects blood pressure. But this is an average and every person is different, so it’s wise for people with high blood pressure to stay below the threshold. Men diagnosed with high blood pressure should limit consumption to two alcoholic drinks or less per day. Women with high blood pressure should limit to one drink or less per day, which is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
Additionally, people with hypertension who drink alcohol may want to consider abstaining completely. Alcohol not only increases blood pressure risk, but it can affect the heart in other negative ways, such as heart failure, stroke, irregular heartbeats, and elevated cholesterol and triglycerides.
Now that you know these common high blood pressure myths, learn more about eating clean and living with hypertension: