High blood pressure — also referred to as hypertension — “is when your blood pressure, the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels, is consistently too high.” When blood pressure is consistently high, it will begin to cause harm to the body by “increasing the workload of the heart and blood vessels.” If left untreated over time, the “force and friction of high blood pressure damages the delicate tissues inside the arteries” and can lead to plaque buildup of unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol.

Not only is high blood pressure an indicator of future health issues — including eye damage, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and blood vessel damage (also called atherosclerosis) — but it can also be a red flag regarding lifestyle and diet choices that may need to be changed. Lifestyle, physical activity, and diet play major roles in the development and treatment of high blood pressure. Specifically, when it comes to diet, it’s been discovered that switching to a plant-based, whole-foods diet is a great way to manage and lower high blood pressure. Let’s take a look at some food and lifestyle tips that can help you keep your blood pressure in check!

1. Limit Processed Foods

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Processed and fast foods usually contain excessive amounts of sodium, often more than the 2,300 milligrams a person should consume per day, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines. It’s extremely easy to consume excess sodium without realizing it when you choose the convenient food option. Sodium has a big impact on your blood pressure. If you eat too much salt, it’s harder for your kidneys to remove water from your body. The fluid builds up and increases your blood pressure. Instead, try adding more fresh foods into your diet and cook from home if possible. By doing so regularly, you will automatically reduce the amount of salt in your diet.

2. Limit Saturated Fat

If you have high blood pressure, try to reduce your saturated fat intake to no more than 6% of daily calories and total fat to 27% of daily calories. This advice pertains to everyone but especially to people with a family history of high blood pressure.

“You should also significantly increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, and fiber you consume daily,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Rebecca Schilling, RDN. “Foods high in saturated fat create the perfect storm of trouble for heart health, clogging arteries, raising bad (LDL) cholesterol, and contributing to high blood pressure,” adds Schilling.

3. Manage Stress

While there’s not enough evidence that stress by itself causes long-term high blood pressure, reacting to stress in unhealthy ways can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. When we feel stressed, our bodies release stress hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol into the blood. This results in a fight or flight response and temporarily raises your blood pressure. The next time you’re facing a stressful situation, try taking a couple of minutes out of your day to sit quietly and breathe deeply. This will help you see the bigger picture from a more calm and relaxed mindset.

4. Increase Potassium

The more potassium that you include in your diet, the more sodium your body will release through urine. Potassium also eases tension in your blood vessel walls and lowers blood pressure. The recommended potassium intake for an average adult is 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day. Fruits like bananas, dried apricots, pomegranates, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon are great sources of that. Vegetables like brussels sprouts, beets, acorn squash, and coconut water are also great sources of potassium to include in your diet.

5. Prioritize sleep

Not only is getting adequate sleep important to your overall health, but it also plays a big part in keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy. When you sleep, your blood pressure naturally decreases. Having trouble sleeping means your blood pressure stays higher for a longer period, says the CDC. Not getting enough sleep regularly is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Always check with your care provider before changing your diet or lifestyle. Regular visits with your doctor are essential to controlling your blood pressure.

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