The causes of high blood pressure are not always known. It can be triggered by environmental factors and it can be inherited from a parent. However, lifestyle (e.g. being overweight, not exercising enough) and underlying conditions (e.g. diabetes) do have a clear effect on blood pressure. Changes in lifestyle and treatment of underlying conditions help getting high blood pressure under control (normal or near normal blood pressure).
Regardless of the cause of your high blood pressure, your diet has a huge impact on how well you can live and can cope with the condition.
There are many recommended diets for people with high blood pressure or heart disease (e.g. DASH and Mediterranean diets). However, all these diets have one thing in common. Some foods increase your blood pressure, while some others help to reduce it.
What should you eat more of?
In general, you should eat more proteins as long as you you do not have kidney disease or other protein restrictions in your diet.
- You should include more lean meat in your diet such as fish, crab, chicken eggs, pork meat without the fat, skinless turkey and chicken.
- Eat more fruits either fresh, frozen, or canned without added salt or sugar.
- Vegetables that are preferably fresh, but otherwise frozen or canned without added salt.
- Richly coloured green, orange, and red vegetables are high in potassium and minerals that help lower blood pressure.
- The goal is to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Dried nuts and seeds contain healthy oils.
- You can use low salt cereals to cook at home, such as oats or oatmeal.
You should eat less of these foods:
- Butter and margarine.
- Fatty meats.
- Whole milk dairy products.
- Fried foods.
- Salted snacks.
- Canned foods.
- Fast foods.
Eating less salt in your food is healthy for you
Salt is already present in most of the foods that you eat, so adding more to your food is not necessary. Salt makes your body hold extra water leading to higher blood pressure. This is bad for your health and wellbeing.
It may take your tongue a little while to get used to less salt in your foods. You can improve the taste of your food by adding non-salt spices such as garlic, bay leaf, cumin, green pepper or lemon juice.
As an adult, you should aim to eat no more than a teaspoon of salt every day, including the salt already present in prepared foods. Most people eat more than this recommended limit, because salt is present in so many things we eat.
Tips on reducing your intake of salt
- Don't use table salt.
- Read nutrition labels and choose foods lower in sodium. Choose foods marked "sodium-free", "low sodium", and "unsalted".
- Use other things like garlic, lemon, vinegar and other herbs when cooking your meals.
- Use herbs and food seasoning that do not contain salt.
Foods with high salt content to avoid
- Processed foods such as sausages, ground beef, bacon, and ham.
- Condiments such as catsup, soy sauce and salad dressings.
- Frozen packs of potatoes, rice, and pasta.
- Snack foods such as pretzels, popcorn, peanuts and chips.
- Food that is marinated in salt. Vinegar- and lemon juice-based marinades are fine to use.
What else should you change in your diet?
- You should drink alcohol moderately or avoid it altogether.
- You should try to eat a variety of fresh foods to make sure that you get enough nutrients.
- Eat foods that are rich in fibre such as whole-grain bread, cereals (e.g. oatmeal), fresh fruit and vegetables.