Doctors can't pinpoint one single identifying factor as to the cause of high blood pressure, or hypertension, but evidence has shown that diets high in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol can increase blood pressure. This means eating too much meat — red meats especially — can have negative health effects. Some studies say leaner meats and seafood do less damage to blood pressure levels, as they are typically lower in fat, while other findings suggest ditching meat altogether from daily diets.
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Red Meat Woes
Red meat is thought to increase blood pressure because red meat is high in saturated fats, which cause arteries to clog and cholesterol to rise, leading to subsequent heart disease. By removing red meat from your diet — or at the very least cutting down your consumption — and replacing it with low-fat sources of protein, you can meet daily nutrition needs in a healthier way. The worst red meats for heart health and blood pressure are those high in fat, such as beef, pork, lamb, sausage and bratwurst, and any fried meats.
The most fattening and least healthy element of poultry is the skin, so if you're trying to lower blood pressure and eat heart-healthy protein, opt for baked or broiled skinless chicken, turkey and other poultry. It's important to remember that poultry is not by itself a healthy option; it's in how the meat is prepared and cooked that matters. Avoid fried chicken or cooking poultry in unhealthy oils to eliminate artery-clogging saturated fats. A dinner of baked, skinless chicken is a more heart-healthy source of protein than a hamburger or steak.
Fish and Seafood
Even healthier than skinless poultry is fresh or frozen fish, which is not only a low-fat meat, but depending on the fish, can pack a bigger nutritional punch, with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Tuna is a healthy lean protein, as is salmon and cod. Shellfish such as crab, lobster and shrimp are low-fat when baked or broiled, but are not overly heart healthy as they are high in cholesterol, while baked scallops or clams have lower cholesterol levels. Avoid fried fish or seafood and cholesterol-filled condiments such as tartar sauce and butter.
For optimal heart health and healthy blood pressure levels, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests a low-fat, low-cholesterol and low-sodium diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This could be interpreted as eating a vegan diet, which avoids all meat, dairy, eggs and animal byproducts, and derives protein and nutrients from plant-based sources such as beans, whole grains and nuts. A vegan diet can improve heart health and blood pressure as long as processed, high-fat and high-sodium foods are eaten sparingly.