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Foods that help to reduce your blood pressure

Published: February 2020

Eating more of certain foods and less of others can help you to achieve significant reductions in blood pressure. You don’t have to adopt a lifestyle of monastic austerity: just being a little more selective as you pick items from the supermarket shelf can make all the difference. And reading the label can help a lot: this has become much easier as governments increasingly require manufacturers to provide nutritional information in a form that consumers can understand.

Less salt and sugar, more fruit and vegetables

Salt is bad for you. It’s the single biggest cause of high blood pressure because it contains sodium, too much of which can make your body retain water and thus increase your blood pressure.

The first step you should take is to stop using it in cooking and sprinkling it on food. You’ll be surprised how quickly your palate adapts: food doesn’t need salt in order to taste wonderful. And if you really can’t manage without it, try a low-sodium salt substitute.

That said, only 25 percent of your salt intake enters your body in this way. Most of it is contained in processed foods, sometimes where you’d least expect it, such as bread and breakfast cereals.

The maximum recommended daily allowance for adults is 6 grammes, the equivalent of about one teaspoon.

Cut down on sugar. Eating too much sugar makes you put on weight, which makes you more susceptible to high blood pressure. Sugary foods create a vicious circle by giving you a short-term energy rush, but are digested quickly, leaving you feeling listless and wanting more of the same.

Most of the sugar you consume is not the stuff you spoon into your morning cup of tea: it’s hidden, in the form of the high-fructose corn syrup contained in most processed foods.

Eat more fruit and vegetables. The good thing about these is that they contain potassium. This counteracts the effects of sodium and makes it easier for your kidneys to filter and excrete water from your bloodstream, thereby reducing your blood pressure. Fruit and veg also contain the vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre your body needs in order to stay healthy.

Cut down on alcohol. Stick to the recommended limits: three to four units a day for men, and two to three for women, who typically have a lower weight and water-to-body-mass ratio. These are the quantities that medical experts believe pose no significant additional health risk – though there’s no safe limit, and even just one drink a day increases the risk of hypertension. In the UK, the number of units is usually marked on the container.

Most drinking raises your blood pressure temporarily until your liver processes the alcohol out of your body. Persistent heavy drinking can cause more long-term problems by dilating your blood vessels so that your blood pressure increases. It also raises the level of lipids in your bloodstream, hardening your arteries and again increasing your blood pressure.

Alcoholic drinks contain lots of sugar, empty calories that make you pile on the pounds, and being overweight makes you more prone to hypertension.