Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is believed to impact up to one in five New Zealand adults, although more so men than women. While rates of hypertension have been stable over the past decade, it is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Concerningly, hypertension is also known as a ‘silent disease’. This is because many adults have reported not to have experienced any symptoms, and were unaware that they had hypertension.1 This is problematic as untreated high blood pressure can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease by weakening blood vessels and influencing clot formation in the arteries.
To help reduce your risk of high blood pressure, there are some simple dietary changes you can make.
Go for low sodium
Sodium (found in salt and other sources) is an essential electrolyte that our body needs for day-to-day functioning, including:
- maintaining water balance in and out of the cells, and
- muscle and nerve functioning.
But while we do need sodium in our diets, eating too much has long been identified with increased risk of high blood pressure. The result of consuming a diet high in sodium is water retention. Retaining excess water negatively influences our normal water balance in and out of the cells, causing blood pressure to rise.
The World Health Organization recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 5g of salt (2000mg of sodium) per day. However, due to current food supply practices, people tend to consume a lot more than this.
Making simple changes in your diet to help reduce the amount of sodium you consume is a quick way to help lower blood pressure. Some tips include:
- Reducing the amount of salt you add to meals by adding flavour through other herbs and spices, such as chilli, ginger, garlic and coriander.
- Draining and rinsing canned foods to remove as much of the sodium-based liquid as possible.
- Opting for ‘low-sodium’ versions of food products such as simmer sauces, stocks and pre-made curry bases if you use these.
- Reducing the amount you eat of smoked and processed meats, which tend to contain a lot of sodium.
- Reducing your intake of processed snacks like biscuits, chips and crackers.
Opt for high fibre options by including a wide range of vegetables and wholegrains
Vegetables are the foundation to any healthy and wholesome diet. Research has consistently shown the many benefits of consuming a diet rich in vegetables, with one being a reduced risk of developing high blood pressure. Despite the recent push for ketogenic diets, research has shown wholegrain consumption to be cardiovascular protective.2
Regular consumption of wholegrains has been associated with a lowered risk of high blood pressure, along with a reduction of overall cardiovascular disease risk. Examples of these foods include:
- Wholegrain pasta
- Wholegrain bread
- High fibre breakfast cereals
Keep an eye on potassium
Potassium is another essential electrolyte, which is sometimes forgotten in the presence of sodium. Research has suggested that consuming foods rich in potassium can help to lower blood pressure risk, by helping eliminate sodium through urine.3 It is worthwhile to note that while there has been some research to suggest the benefits of potassium consumption in reducing blood pressure risk, it is best to seek medical advice before increasing consumption if you have kidney disease or any kidney problems. Natural sources of potassium include:
- Arugula (rocket)
- Nuts and seeds
While taking on any of these strategies will help to reduce blood pressure over time, it is best to implement them altogether, in combination with a diet rich in wholefoods and regular exercise, and under the guidance of your healthcare professional. Making the effort to reduce salt, opt for high fibre foods, include natural sources of potassium as well as a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, and participate in regular physical activity, is the best long-term strategy to combat high blood pressure.
1. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of hypertension in adults – 2016, Genevieve M Gabb et al, MJA 205 (2)
2. Whole grains protect against atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, James W Anderson, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2003), 62, 135–142
3. Effects of Oral Potassium on Blood Pressure: Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials, Paul K. Whelton et al, JAMA. 1997;277(20):1624-1632.