If you have high blood pressure, you're not alone. In fact, you're in the company of about 100 million other Americans whose numbers are above the healthy range, according to the American Heart Association.
But don't take solace in the "misery loves company" mentality — high blood pressure, aka hypertension, is a serious risk to your health.
The good news is that high blood pressure is largely treatable. Aside from risk factors you can't do anything about, such as genetics and simply getting older, many cases of hypertension can be prevented and even resolved through diet. That's right: Certain foods can help lower blood pressure when coupled with an overall healthier eating approach.
Healthy blood pressure is below 120/80, according to the AHA. High blood pressure is defined as a systolic reading (the top number) of 130 or higher or a diastolic reading (the bottom number) of 80 or higher.
This unassuming dried fruit, more often associated with relieving constipation, is packed with a healthy dose of potassium, and higher intakes of potassium can lower blood pressure, according to a June 2019 review in Nutrients.
"Potassium-rich foods can help reduce blood pressure by lowering sodium," Soma Mandal, MD, a board-certified medical internist, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Indeed, potassium helps to pull sodium out of your body and also helps relax your blood vessels to help blood flow easier, according to the AHA.
Just one-half cup of prunes gives you almost 700 milligrams of potassium, which is about 20 percent of the recommended daily value, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Prunes aren't your only way to get potassium, though. Bananas, baked potatoes, oranges, lentils and avocados are also tasty ways to get more of the nutrient in your diet.
Don't go overboard, though — stick with the NIH's recommended daily amount of 2,600 to 3,400 milligrams for women and men, respectively.
Talk with your doctor if you have kidney disease, because eating more potassium may not be recommended for you.
Your favorite summertime fruit makes the list because it contains a compound called citrulline, which is being studied for its numerous benefits on sport performance and health, including its effects on blood pressure.
According to an August 2016 study in Nutrients, citrulline is converted to the amino acid arginine in the body and arginine is converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means it helps open up your blood vessels, which helps lower your blood pressure.
If watermelon isn't in season, you can get a dose of citrulline from cucumbers, bitter melon or pumpkins, according to a February 2013 review in Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology.
Berries — including blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, grapes and cherries — contain a flavonoid called anthocyanin, which is a powerful antioxidant and is responsible for the dark red, purple and blue colors in many fruits and vegetables.
Anthocyanins can help lower blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide, which opens up blood vessels, according to a June 2019 review in Nutrients. They also work against compounds in the body that can cause vasoconstriction, or narrowing of your blood vessels.
Beets may not be your favorite vegetable — actually, they may not even be in your top 10 — but maybe they should be if you have high blood pressure.
Beets are high in nitrate, which is converted into nitric oxide. In a November 2014 study in Hypertension, researchers had study subjects in one group drink regular beet juice and another group drank beet juice with the nitrate removed. The group who had the regular beet juice showed lower blood pressure after four weeks and improved vascular function, while the other group did not show the benefits.
It's OK if you'd rather take a hard pass on beets, though. Lucky for you, dark green leafy vegetables also contain good amounts of nitrate, per a March 2017 paper in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, so adding kale, spinach or chard to your diet is a healthy choice.
If yogurt is part of your daily breakfast routine or you like to eat it as a snack, you may be well on your way to lowering your blood pressure.
According to an August 2019 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, study participants who ate five to six servings of low-fat dairy each day for six weeks, over those who ate one or less servings, had a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. A serving was 8 ounces of skim milk (two or more servings each day), 7 ounces of low-fat yogurt (two or more servings each day) or 1 slice of reduced-fat cheese (no more than two slices).
The researchers in the study hypothesize that the combination of calcium, potasssium and magnesium from the dairy are partly responsible for the drop in blood pressure.
You've probably heard that eating fish at least twice a week is good for your heart. That's because most fatty fish, including salmon, contains omega-3 fatty acids.
According to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, omega-3 fatty acids not only lower blood pressure, but they also help lower heart rate and improve blood vessel function.
If you're a vegetarian or fish just isn't your thing, you can get omega-3 fatty acids from plant-based foods like walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and edamame.
Oats have long been regarded as a staple health food because they are a rich source of fiber. That fiber, which is touted for lowering cholesterol, can also lower your blood pressure.
Dr. Mandal recommends steel-cut oats. "There has been research that the specific type of fiber called beta-glucan can reduce blood pressure," she says.
A May 2015 review in the Journal of Hypertension found that beta-glucan fiber can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
You can also find beta-glucan fiber in barley and breakfast cereals made from oats and barley, such as Cheerios.
More Diet Tips for Lowering Blood Pressure
1. Lower Your Salt Intake
When it comes to eating to lower blood pressure, it's best to limit the sodium in your daily diet to less than 2,300 milligrams if you don't already have high blood pressure, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
However, if you already have high blood pressure, the AHA recommends reducing your salt intake even further, to around 1,500 milligrams per day (that's less than 1 teaspoon, for reference).
2. Try a Heart-Friendly Diet
The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is specifically tailored to help you take your blood pressure down. The diet is high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, but low in sodium.
Alternatively, Dr. Mandal highly suggests eating a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
3. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Dr. Mandal recommends no more than one to two cups of coffee per day. She also suggests those with high blood pressure especially limit their alcohol intake. The AHA recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one per day for women.
"I also recommend regular exercise and managing stress," Dr. Mandal adds.
Plus, make sure to schedule regular checkups with your primary care physician, who can monitor your blood pressure and help you devise the best treatment plan based on your family history and individual health needs.
Is This an Emergency?
- American Heart Association: "More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, AHA says"
- American Heart Association:"Understanding Blood Pressure Readings"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "The Facts on Sodium and High Blood Pressure"
- American Heart Association: "Why Should I Limit Sodium?"
- National Institutes of Health: "Potassium"
- Nutrients: "The Effect of Electrolytes on Blood Pressure: A Brief Summary of Meta-Analyses"
- Nutrients: "Comparison of Watermelon and Carbohydrate Beverage on Exercise-Induced Alterations in Systemic Inflammation, Immune Dysfunction, and Plasma Antioxidant Capacity"
- Hypertension: "Dietary Nitrate Provides Sustained Blood Pressure Lowering in Hypertensive Patients"
- Nutrients: "Potential Factors Influencing the Effects of Anthocyanins on Blood Pressure Regulation in Humans: A Review"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effect of high compared with low dairy intake on blood pressure in overweight middle-aged adults: results of a randomized crossover intervention study"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
- Journal of Hypertension: "Whole blood omega-3 fatty acid concentrations are inversely associated with blood pressure in young, healthy adults"
- Journal of Hypertension: "Effects of Dietary Fibre Type on Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials of Healthy Individuals"
- National Institutes of Health: "DASH Eating Plan"
- Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology: "Citrulline: Pharmacological Perspectives and Its Role as an Emerging Biomarker in Future"
- African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines: "Nitrate in Leafy Green Vegetables and Estimated Intake"