Updated: Oct 6, 2022
Throughout the month of February, we've looked at how we can make a significant improvement to our heart health through our lifestyle choices. And there are so many choices! This article looks at ways to lower your blood pressure by making small adjustments to your eating habits. Always touch base with your doctor and/or pharmacist before making significant changes to your diet, especially if you are on medication as some medications can interact with certain nutrients from our foods (potassium, for example). In addition to speaking with your doctor or pharmacist, it’s important to thoroughly read your prescription pamphlets, and take your medication as directed.
What’s the Big Deal About Blood Pressure and How Do I Know if It’s High?
Blood pressure is how we move blood to all of our organs and tissues (1). When our blood pressure is high, our heart must work harder to pump that blood through the arteries (2). When our blood pressure is consistently high, known as hypertension, our risk for stroke and heart attack increases significantly. (It is also possible for our blood pressure to be consistently too low, but that’s for another article).
The best way to keep track of your blood pressure is to measure it regularly. When we measure blood pressure, we are measuring the force of blood against our arteries. We see two numbers when we take our blood pressure. These numbers represent two different components of our blood pressure. The top number (systolic pressure) is the pressure of the blood on the vessels when the heart is beating, while the bottom number (diastolic pressure) is the pressure of the blood on the vessels in between beats. Our blood pressure is considered high if our systolic or diastolic numbers, or both, are consistently elevated (3). With the exception of certain health conditions, the Canadian Hypertension Society suggests that our blood pressure should be lower than 140/90 (14).
What to Do if You Get a High Reading
Firstly, try not to panic. There are times when our blood pressure will naturally rise throughout the day. For example, during exercise, our blood pressure tends to rise. We’ll often see our blood pressure rise during periods of high stress or when we are in pain. For some of us – 15 to 30% of us (4) - our blood pressure even rises when we measure our blood pressure, or during visits to the doctor (known as the “White Coat Effect”). As much as it might be tempting to immediately check your blood pressure again, it might be more beneficial to check it on a different day, especially if you felt distressed about the reading. Call your doctor right away to set up an appointment. Then, if you can, try to measure (and take note of!) your blood pressure a couple more times before your appointment so that you have a more accurate representation of your numbers (5).
Your doctor will make recommendations about how to proceed. Depending on the numbers, your health history, and your current health habits, they may suggest lifestyle changes, dietary changes, medication, or a combination. They may also suggest you monitor your blood pressure more regularly, such as with an at home monitor. I like this unit, as it's recommended by Hypertension Canada, it has been measured for accuracy, and it's not too expensive.
Improving Your Blood Pressure Through Diet
As with cholesterol, there are specific things you can do within your eating habits that can help lower your blood pressure. Conveniently, the dietary recommendations for improving your blood pressure are the same as the recommendations for lowering your cholesterol (6). (You can read more about those suggestions here).
We commonly hear experts recommending reducing sodium intake and limiting alcohol consumption to help lower blood pressure (7), but there are also a few superstar nutrients that I think are worth mentioning. These nutrients seem to perform better when they are eaten, rather than taken in supplement form. Again, be sure to run any dietary changes past your health team prior to starting.
Foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium can help to regulate blood pressure, as do foods containing vitamins C and E. Foods that are higher in folate and fibre have also been shown to help control blood pressure (8, 9, 10, 11).
You know I can’t resist a food that can multi-task, so here are 5 foods that perform double duty to help lower your blood pressure:
Legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, and kidneys. Beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein and dietary fibre. Depending on your bean selection, they can also be high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Fruits and veggies, especially green veggies and berries. In terms of health benefits, broccoli is a fantastic choice because it contains vitamin C, fibre, protein (yes, really!), folate, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Berries are also a great choice, as they contain vitamin C, fibre, and an antioxidant shown to lower blood pressure. Of course, all fruits and veggies offer a wide number of health benefits, so try to incorporate a variety of choices and colours each day.
Nuts and seeds (unsalted, of course!). I love chia seeds, ground flax seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds, all of which contain some protein, some heart healthy fats, and fibre, as well as potassium and magnesium. Aside from being a great source of protein and heart healthy fats, both almonds and pistachios contain calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Quinoa. Whole grains often contain higher amounts of fibre, protein, and nutrients such as vitamin E and magnesium in comparison to their refined counterparts. Quinoa is one of the best grain-based sources of protein and contains all of the essential amino acids we need (this is rare for a plant-based protein, and very helpful for vegetarians or vegans!). It is also a good source of fibre, essential fatty acids, plus a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and E, as well as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Quinoa is also a great source of heart healthy phytosterols, which we learned about in last week’s article (12).
Oats. Oats are a great source of fibre, protein, unsaturated fatty acids, and vitamin E. The fibre found in oats (beta-glucan) has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. Additionally, oats are sources of a variety of antioxidants, including ones that can help dilate blood vessels (13).
I know that this food list is a little long, especially if you're also considering other dietary changes, such as the ones I recommended in last week's article. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, or if you’re not sure where to start, book a complimentary session with me to figure out possible next steps. Plus, if you're on our mailing list, keep an eye out for my handy guide on how to incorporate heart healthy foods into your day! In it, I go over some meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and supper, plus a few snack ideas for good measure.
Whatever you decide you want to start with, know that myself and the rest of the Strong Soul community are standing with you, cheering you on.
Please Note: This article may contain links to products that I have used or to brands that I trust and recommend. In some cases, I may receive an affiliate fee when readers click over to their websites from mine. This allows me to continue to create and offer free or low-cost classes, workshops, and articles, as well as the sliding scale membership options. Please be assured that my intention is to remain objective and impartial with any recommendations I may make, and I will never recommend anything that I haven't tried and enjoyed myself.
(1-2, 5, 9) Heart and Stroke. (n.d.). High Blood Pressure. Heart and Stroke. www.heartandstroke.ca/heart-
(3-4, 14) Public Health Agency of Canada. (n.d.). Do You Know What Your Blood Pressure Is? You
Should!. Government of Canada. http://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-
(6, 8) Cicero, A.F.G., Veronesi, M. & Fogacci, F. Dietary Intervention to Improve Blood Pressure Control:
Beyond Salt Restriction. High Blood Press Cardiovasc Prev28, 547–553 (2021).
(7, 10) Andrews, R. (n.d.). All About High Blood Pressure. Precision Nutrition.
(11) McKinney, C. (n.d.). 7 Foods to Eat to Lower Blood Pressure. Johns Hopkins.
(12) Graf, B. L., Rojas-Silva, P., Rojo, L. E., Delatorre-Herrera, J., Baldeón, M. E., & Raskin, I. (2015).
Innovations in Health Value and Functional Food Development of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa
Willd.). Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety, 14(4), 431–445.
(13) Rasane, P., Jha, A., Sabikhi, L., Kumar, A., & Unnikrishnan, V. S. (2015). Nutritional advantages of oats
and opportunities for its processing as value added foods - a review. Journal of food science and
technology, 52(2), 662–675. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-013-1072-1