Taking a pill to lower your blood pressure isn't license to throw caution to the wind and chow down on fatty foods. Think of lifestyle choices and medication as a marriage — blood pressure is best controlled when they work together. Even with medication, what you eat still has an effect.
Though the Mayo Clinic notes that a vegetarian diet has many heart-healthy benefits, that doesn't mean you need to skip meat altogether if you're trying to keep your blood pressure under control — you just need to choose wisely. And remember, moderation rules.
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Good protein options to put on your menu include:
Fish and seafood. Many types of fish and seafood are good sources of potassium, a mineral that can help counteract the adverse effect of sodium on blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For example, a 3-ounce serving of salmon or pompano provides 9 percent of your needed daily amount of potassium.
Also, the Mayo Clinic notes that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet includes heart-healthy fish such as salmon, herring and tuna, high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for your heart.
Lean red meat. The American Heart Association advises people with high blood pressure to limit the amount of saturated fat in their diet because it raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. This means limiting red meat and choosing from the leanest cuts when you do eat it.
"Lean cuts of beef, in smaller portions, can be part of a healthy lifestyle," says Justine Hays, RD, a registered dietitian in Buffalo, New York, adding that naturally lean cuts of beef are top round, flank, filet mignon and tenderloin. "These cuts of beef, much like lean poultry and seafood, can provide nutrients such as protein, iron, vitamin B and zinc," she says.
Poultry. The DASH diet recommends poultry, typically chicken and turkey, along with fish, for meeting most of the needed six servings a day of meat. According to the NIH, chicken is also relatively high in potassium, with about 332 milligrams per serving, or 9 percent of your daily recommended value. Always choose skinless poultry, says Hays.
Healthy Preparation Methods
Even if you're choosing healthy meat options, it's possible to sabotage your good efforts with a less-than-ideal preparation method. For example, if you're eating chicken that's mainly fried — only eating chicken fingers, for instance — you may see your blood pressure negatively affected, not from the chicken itself, says Hays, but because of the cooking method and added fat.
Using a high amount of salt, deep-frying your meat, and choosing sugar-based sauces can all present risks for keeping your blood pressure under control, she says.
Limit the amount of sodium in your diet by using herbs, spices and fruit juices to flavor your meat, poultry and fish rather than salt or ready-made sauces. Cut off any visible fat from red meat and poultry before cooking, and use healthy cooking methods such as poaching, broiling, grilling, roasting and steaming instead of frying, Hays suggests.
When eating out, you can still eat healthy by being aware of menu keywords like "crispy" or "battered" because they often indicate that the dish is fried.
Portion size is also important, Hays adds. A serving of meat, including a chicken breast or a fish filet, should be about the size of your palm and not thicker than a deck of cards, she says.
Meats to Limit or Avoid
If you have high blood pressure, some meats should be avoided at all costs. For instance, highly processed meats tend to be high in sodium, which can raise blood pressure, according to McKenzie Caldwell, RD, MPH, a registered dietitian with Feed Your Zest in Charlotte, North Carolina. She says these include breakfast meats like sausage and bacon, processed deli meats like bologna and pastrami, hot dogs and other cured sausages, including "fancy" cured meats like prosciutto and salami.
"Add these foods to your 'sometimes' list so you can enjoy them mindfully on occasion while also managing your blood pressure," Caldwell says. "More often, choose fresher cuts of meat like roast chicken from the deli counter if you're looking for a sandwich option."
Read more: What Is Normal Blood Pressure?
- Mayo Clinic: "The Power of a Plant-based Diet for Heart Health"
- Mayo Clinic: "Nutrition and Healthy Eating"
- National Institutes of Health: "Potassium"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- Justine Hays, RD, CDN, registered dietitian, Buffalo, New York
- McKenzie Caldwell, RD, registered dietitian, Feed Your Zest Nutrition, Charlotte, North Carolina