You may not know if you have high blood pressure as it’s a hidden issue. In England alone, it’s estimated there are over five million people unaware that they have it. That’s one in four adults unknowingly at risk of heart problems, kidney disease, stroke and dementia.
The only way to know for sure is to have your blood pressure checked. If it is high, medication will treat hypertension (high blood pressure) but healthy lifestyle changes can also make a big difference. Here are five simple diet tweaks to help reduce your blood pressure…
1. Say no to salt
Cutting salt can help your blood pressure maintain healthy levels. It’s very easy to eat more salt than you should, as many ready-made foods (even things like breakfast cereals, bread and sauces) contain added salt. In fact, around three quarters of the salt we eat has already been added to our food before we buy it.
The maximum amount of salt advised for adults is 6g (around 1 teaspoon) or 2.5g sodium a day. You can get an idea of your salt intake by looking at the ‘per serving’ nutritional information on food labels.
2. Go potty for potassium
Eating foods containing this mineral can help to maintain normal blood pressure. Fruit and veg are good sources of potassium, especially sweet potatoes, greens, peas and bananas.
3. You can’t beat beets
Beetroot juice is your secret weapon in the fight against high blood pressure. A British Heart Foundation study showed drinking a cup (250ml) of beetroot juice daily could significantly lower the blood pressure of people with hypertension. The nitrates in beetroot are the magic ingredient but beware – because they’re water soluble, boiling your beets will reduce the beneficial effects. Roasting or juicing are the best ways with beets.
4. OMG omegas!
The reason we’re always being advised to eat oily fish is for their omega 3 fatty acids. The types found in salmon, tuna and co are known as EPA and DHA, and a daily dose of 3g has been shown to promote normal blood pressure. If you’re not a fish fan, consider fish oil supplements. But for veggies unfortunately no substitute has been proven to have the same effect on blood pressure. Previously it was thought that the omega 3s in flaxseed oil or chia seeds(ALAs) were converted to EPA and DHA by the body, but recent research suggests this doesn’t happen efficiently. Instead, scientists are now looking at the potential of algae as a source of DHA. Watch this space!
5. Cut out caffeine
Drinking more than four coffees a day may increase your blood pressure, so do your heart a favour and cut the caffeine. Coffee is the main culprit when it comes to a high caffeine content, with a mug of filter coffee containing nearly twice as much caffeine as a can of energy drink. Don’t forget that many common painkillers also contain caffeine – one headache tablet can often contain more than a can of cola.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine.