Blood pressure is a good indicator of overall health, with high blood pressure, known as hypertension, indicated as a risk factor in heart attacks and stroke.
According to the NHS, 1 in 4 adults will have high blood pressure, though many may not be aware of their numbers. This is why the ‘Know Your Numbers’ campaign runs this week to encourage us all to be aware of our blood pressure. For more information visit the Blood Pressure website
If yours is verging on the high side, then it’s time to look at your lifestyle and nutrition.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer gives her top nutrition tips and advice on how to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range.
Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day and will obviously be raised when you’re exercising or doing something more strenuous. It also tends to increase with age. Average blood pressure readings should be around 120/80 (systolic/diastolic) with the diastolic reading having more significance.
What causes high blood pressure?
High blood pressure can be caused by a narrowing or thickening of the arteries, thicker blood or tension in the arteries which is controlled by the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium in relation to sodium (salt). Sometimes it’s not always obvious what the cause is, but changes to diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on blood pressure readings.
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables
This is THE most important change to make when addressing blood pressure issues. This is mainly because vitamin C, present in all fruits and vegetables, helps reverse the hardening of the arteries. Other antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables also help protect the arteries from damage.
Great choices are apples, broccoli and green leafy veg, cabbage, melon, red pepper, peas, sweet potatoes, berry fruits and citrus fruits. To further increase intake, why not have a juice every day; apple, ginger and carrot together is delicious. Just experiment and go with the flow!
The mineral magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation and of course the heart is a muscle. Magnesium is rich in green, leafy veg which is yet another good reason to load up your plate with greens.
Have a dose of garlic
The amazing health benefits of garlic have been hailed for hundreds of years. Research appears to suggest that garlic helps reduce the stickiness of blood, therefore helping to reduce blood pressure.
It’s easy to include in the daily diet, especially in stir fries, chicken and fish dishes, in wholemeal pasta recipes or with various vegetables; it’s particularly tasty with broccoli.
Eat more fish
Oily fish, namely salmon, mackerel and sardines, are especially rich in the omega-3 fats which are known to reduce high blood pressure. This fact has also been verified by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) who state omega-3 fats have several heart-health benefits.
It’s best to eat oily fish two to three times per week; salmon is easy to bake in the oven with a little dill, lemon juice and olive oil, wrapped in foil, which takes no time at all.
If, however, fish is not your bag then one of the best sources of omega-3s is flaxseeds which are easy to sprinkle over your morning cereal (preferably oat-based as they also have heart benefits) or stirred into natural yogurt with fruit.
Load up on vitamin E
Vitamin E works alongside vitamin C as a powerful antioxidant and protector of the arteries. However, it’s also good at thinning the blood, helping to make the blood less ‘sticky’.
Nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and almonds are good sources of vitamin E but one of the best foods is avocado. They make a brilliant breakfast, smashed on sourdough bread and sprinkled with seeds. Or why not try it for lunch in a wholemeal wrap with other colourful salad veggies.
What not to eat
Salt has been found to increase blood pressure in certain people. It’s worth adopting a low-salt diet so as not to upset the balance of other essential minerals. Most processed meals are high in salt, so try to stick to home-prepared dishes as much as possible and not to add extra salt; enjoy the wonderful natural flavours of vegetables – the palate will soon adapt.
Avoid bacon and smoked or processed meats which are all high in salt and fat. Even smoked salmon should be avoided if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, until it’s under control again.
Lastly, high stress often equals high blood pressure so take steps to try to reduce or manage this as much as possible. It’s almost impossible to eradicate stress from daily life completely but it’s how you choose to deal with it that counts.
Any form of exercise can help take your mind off things as well as raising your heart rate and improving your overall fitness. Yoga, meditation, reading, Thai chi, a soothing bath in magnesium salts… anything that helps you to relax and destress will have a positive impact on your blood pressure and general wellbeing.
Nutrition can often be very effective quite quickly, so try these dietary tips to help get your blood pressure in check as soon as possible.
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