There is evidence that some foods can cause your blood pressure to go up and some can help bring it down, the Cleveland Clinic says. Fatty and processed meats ought to be on your "eat less of" list to control high blood pressure, it says. So, what if you're craving beef, pork or lamb for dinner?
Red meat has lots of saturated (bad) fat, Seattle-based dietitian Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says. "Eating a piece of meat won't innately raise your blood pressure, but what the research shows is that overall dietary patterns that contain meat could be a source of higher saturated fat intake, which correlates with blood pressure issues," she says.
Indeed, an analysis of nine studies published in the Journal of Human Hypertension in July 2018 concluded that people who consumed especially fatty red meat showed an increased risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure.
The best meal plan for hypertension is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, Hultin says. The DASH diet limits the amount of red meat that you eat. The diet also recommends limiting salt and sugar while emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
But, you don't have to cut red meat from your diet completely. You can eat red meat as long as you limit amounts and choose the leanest cuts available, the AHA says. A study in the journal Nutrients in May 2020 that followed over 8,000 adults found that consumption of moderate amounts of fresh, lean meat, compared to eating fatty meats, is associated with a lower risk of elevated blood pressure.
Cuts of Lean Meat
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lean cuts of meats include:
- Round steaks and roasts (eye of round, top round, bottom round and round tip).
- Top loin.
- Top sirloin.
- Chuck shoulder.
- Arm roasts.
Hamburger time? Check the label and make it from ground beef that is at least 90 percent lean. Better yet, look for packages that say the ground beef is 93 percent or 95 percent lean, the USDA says. You can also make your meat choices healthier by trimming visible fat before cooking, and blotting or rinsing your meat after cooking it, the Mayo Clinic says.
An easy way to enjoy meat but not have it affect your blood pressure is to limit yourself to one serving of red meat per week, Julia Zumpano RD, a nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, says.
Leaner cuts of pork such as tenderloin and center loin can be part of a heart-healthy diet, Zumpano says. Again, moderation is key, she says. Don't go overboard with any one food.
You'll also want to limit your intake of processed meats, like lunch meats, bacon, sausage and ham. Avoiding or cutting back on these meats may help you control your blood pressure, the Cleveland Clinic says. Processed meats tend to be high in sodium, which can raise your blood pressure.
Poultry, Fish and Other Proteins
The best choices of animal proteins are white meat chicken and turkey and fish, Hutlin says. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey to reduce its fat content. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices, the USDA says.
Fish is a heart-healthy food, Zumpano says. The best fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which your body can't make but have been shown to lower risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the AHA. While limiting your intake of red meat, you should eat fish at least twice a week, the AHA says. Among the best choices: salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna. These fish are high in fat, but it's a heart-healthy fat.
There are many protein-rich options that are higher in fiber and antioxidants than animal proteins, Hutlin says. "Choose beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy milk, and even protein-rich grains like quinoa, as your primary protein sources," she says. "This type of dietary pattern is linked to better blood pressure results."
Is This an Emergency?
- Cleveland Clinic: “Hypertension and Nutrition”
- Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, dietitian, adjunct clinical faculty, Bastyr Center for Natural Health, Seattle; spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Nutrients: “Moderate Intake of Lean Red Meat Was Associated With Lower Risk of Elevated Blood Pressure in Chinese Women: Results From the China Health and Nutrition Survey, 1991–2015”
- Journal of Human Hypertension: “Red Meat, Poultry, and Egg Consumption With the Risk of Hypertension: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies”
- American Heart Association: “Managing Blood Pressure With a Heart Healthy Diet”
- Mayo Clinic: “Cuts of Beef, a Guide to the Leanest Selections”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: “How Do I Choose Lean Meat and Poultry?”
- Julia Zumpano, RD, nutritionist, Cleveland Clinic
- American Heart Association: “Fish and Omega 3 Fatty Acids”
- Cleveland Clinic: "High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)"