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Blood pressure is a term most people are familiar with, but what exactly is it? Blood pressure is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the pressure of the blood circulating through your vessels. Simple, right? But blood pressure is extremely important to your overall heart health.
According to the American Heart Association, your blood pressure is measured in two ways:
- Systolic blood pressure: represents the amount of pressure your blood is putting on the walls of your arteries every time your heart beats.
- Diastolic blood pressure: represents the amount of pressure your blood is putting on the walls of your arteries between each heart beat.
When you go to your doctor and he or she takes your blood pressure, you will see these two numbers stacked on top of each other. The systolic blood pressure is the top number and the diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg.
What Is a Normal Blood Pressure Reading?
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. These numbers can read lower than 120/80 mm Hg, which is called hypotension (low blood pressure). Hypotension is diagnosed when your blood pressure is lower than 90/60 mm Hg. When blood pressure numbers are elevated over 120/80 mm Hg, that’s known as hypertension (high blood pressure).
High blood pressure is common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every three American adults suffers from hypertension. Unfortunately, there are rarely any signs or symptoms that you have it. This is why hypertension is often known as “the silent killer.” Many people go for years without realizing their blood pressure is high.
How Do You Know If You Have High Blood Pressure?
Get your blood pressure checked by a medical professional. A doctor or other medical professional will diagnose you with hypertension if your reading is more than 120/80 mm Hg. It’s typical for a doctor to prescribe blood pressure medications to help lower it. Chronic hypertension, when left untreated, can be a large risk factor for more serious issues like heart attack and stroke. It is important to know how to lower blood pressure.
The CDC recommends the following to maintain a healthy blood pressure:
- Regularly get your blood pressure checked.
- Consume healthy foods.
- Don’t be overweight.
- Avoid smoking.
- Minimize alcohol consumption.
Blood pressure is clearly affected by dietary choices and lifestyle habits. It’s possible to lower blood pressure without relying on pharmaceutical drugs. Luckily, nature has provided medicine in the foods you eat. You can change your diet to eliminate saturated fat and processed foods, and feature foods that help lower blood pressure levels, including these nine delicious foods:
1. Leafy Greens
Kale, spinach, beet greens, mustard greens, bok choy, collard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard—the list of leafy greens is lengthy. Leafy greens and vegetables should be included in everyone’s diet, but specifically those trying to lower blood pressure. Leafy greens like the ones listed above contain potassium, which research shows is an important regulator of blood pressure. Potassium and sodium must maintain a proper balance in your body—too much sodium, with too little potassium, leads to elevated blood pressure. The research shows that a diet low in potassium created elevated blood pressure in patients.
It’s crucial to consume adequate levels of potassium every day. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that adolescents and adults consume 4,700 mg of potassium each day. Leafy greens all provide some potassium so they can contribute to your daily intake. For example, 1 cup of cooked spinach contains 839 mg of potassium. Adding lots of leafy greens to your daily diet is a healthy way to lower blood pressure and fight hypertension.
Bananas are also a great source of potassium, providing 487 mg of potassium in just one large banana. In fact, researchers in one study took hypertensive patients and gave them two bananas a day for 20 days. The results of this study showed that eating bananas led to significant reduction of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
How to enjoy: Eating bananas in their pure and natural state is amazing, but you can also add them to your smoothies for a creamy texture, bake them into bread, or eat them sliced with almond butter.
Another food that naturally lowers blood pressure is ginger! This spicy and peppery root is more than just a flavorful addition to food. Research shows that ginger expands the blood vessels, which has a beneficial domino effect on blood pressure. The vasodilation (expansion of blood vessels) that happens with blood vessels increases circulation throughout the body and reduces blood pressure levels. And going back to the potassium conversation, raw ginger contains potassium, too (415 mg per 100 g). Ginger not only aids in circulation but its potassium can help reduce blood pressure.
How to enjoy: Fresh ginger root is delicious grated into stir-fries or warm water for tea! Ground ginger is useful in your favorite baked goods or when used to liven up a sauce. Ginger also comes in capsule form if you aren’t a fan of the flavor. Ginger tea is available in convenient bags for a warm, spicy beverage to naturally lower blood pressure.
Garlic has a reputation for keeping vampires away, but what about its effect on blood pressure? Part of the onion family, garlic is used as a pungent flavor in cooking and also therapeutically for the immune system. But when it comes to lowering blood pressure, garlic is a champion there, too! Research shows that garlic lowers blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide synthase in your cells. This is important because research shows that nitric oxide plays a large role in lowering and regulating blood pressure. One study points out that there is a direct correlation between impaired nitric oxide bioactivity and hypertension. Thus, increasing nitric oxide synthase with garlic consumption is a natural way to reduce blood pressure. Luckily, garlic is a flavorful ingredient and is easy to incorporate into your meals.
How to enjoy: Mince a clove or two of garlic in your cooking, use garlic powder as seasoning, or add garlic to your favorite sauces and dressings. If you can’t stand the taste, garlic capsules are also an option.
If you haven’t pulled out your grocery list yet to start making additions, now is the time. There are still five foods to lower blood pressure on this list!
Flaxseeds, also called linseeds, are tiny seeds but big powerhouses when it comes to lowering blood pressure. One study found that “flaxseeds induced one of the most potent antihypertensive effects achieved by a dietary intervention.” That’s a bold statement! How is this so? Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and lignans (a chemical that acts like an antioxidant) that have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system—including blood pressure levels. The same study reported a decrease in both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure in patients with hypertension who consumed milled flaxseeds. Based on this study, it’s safe to say flaxseeds are extremely helpful in lowering blood pressure!
How to enjoy: Add flaxseeds to smoothies, sprinkle on salads, or use ground flaxseed in baked goods or mixed into oatmeal.
6. Beetroot Juice
These colorful beauties are another food that’s beneficial for lowering blood pressure. Beets and beetroot juice contain something known as dietary nitrate. In one study, researchers found that healthy volunteers who consumed dietary nitrate in the form of a single serving of 500 ml in the form of beetroot juice experienced a significant reduction of systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels (note: long-term results have yet to be studied). Another study concluded that beetroot juice will lower blood pressure when it’s consumed regularly as part of a heart-healthy diet.
How to enjoy: Drink up! Evidence is clear that drinking beetroot juice is the proven way to lower blood pressure levels.
7. Pomegranate Juice
Pomegranates, specifically pomegranate juice, is known for its tart yet sweet flavor. But this delicious juice isn’t just a benefit to your taste buds. Pomegranate juice has been shown to provide a significant reduction in blood pressure. Both systolic and diastolic pressures were reduced in healthy, middle-aged men and women after adding 330 ml of pomegranate juice to their daily diets for four weeks. Talk about a tasty way to help lower blood pressure!
How to enjoy: Pomegranate juice can be enjoyed on its own or added to smoothies. Make sure you check the labels on your juice—you want 100 percent pure pomegranate juice.
8. Celery/Celery Seed
Celery is a fibrous green stalk that you may have enjoyed in the form of “ants on a log” (typically cream cheese or peanut butter spread on a celery stalk and topped with raisins) as a child. But celery is also beneficial for lowering blood pressure. Water-rich in nature, celery provides hydration to the body. Dehydration is a trigger for hypertension. In fact, when cells lack water, the brain releases a hormone known as vasopressin that signals the body to constrict blood vessels. As discussed earlier, constricted blood vessels equals increased blood pressure. Therefore, the more hydrated you are, the less constricted your blood vessels will be.
Since celery is water-rich and naturally hydrating to the body, it can naturally reduce blood pressure. One pilot study found that celery seed extract decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressures in patients with mild to moderate hypertension after six weeks. Celery seed extract contains 3-n-butyl phthalide (3nB), which is the key to helping lower blood pressure in the study. Both the seed and the mature plant are beneficial in lowering blood pressure.
How to enjoy: Celery seed can be consumed as a tea, in soups and broths, or sprinkled on your favorite foods. Celery stalks can be enjoyed as a snack, chopped up in salads, blended in a smoothie, or juiced.
Pistachios are a filling snack, but also a heart-healthy one. Pistachios are a member of the cashew family and have a rich and creamy taste. One study found that eating pistachios daily lowered systolic blood pressure in adults with abnormal blood lipid levels. A review of clinical trials also concluded that nut consumption (specifically pistachios) lowered systolic blood pressure levels. Whether you like them already shelled or enjoy breaking apart the shell on your own, pistachios make a great, blood-pressure–lowering snack any day.
How to enjoy: You can eat them as they are, grind them to make pistachio butter, or add them to pesto!
Which foods lower blood pressure? You have nine in your pocket! Incorporating the foods listed above into your diet will help to benefit your blood pressure. Meet your healthcare providers halfway by making food choices that can help lower blood pressure. Food can positively affect your blood pressure, so whether you have normal levels or suffer from hypertension, your dietary choices are important!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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