This is a guest post written by Kelsey Marksteiner MS, RD. Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from NYU and a Master’s in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. She works in private practice and recommends individualized dietary therapy focusing on biologically appropriate diet principles to aid her clients in losing weight, gaining energy, and pursuing continued health. Through her work, she aims to meld the dietary wisdom of traditional cultures with the latest science in integrative and functional medicine to create plans for her clients that work in the modern world. You can learn more about Kelsey by visiting her website or join her newsletter here!
Nearly 1 in 3 (approximately 76 million) people in the United States suffer from high blood pressure. (1) Given that hypertension can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke, this statistic means many of us are at risk. The good news is there is a lot we can do to lower our blood pressure naturally, and I’ll give you my best tips and tricks in this article.
Before we jump into exactly how you can reverse high blood pressure with a real food diet and lifestyle, let’s quickly review the basics of blood pressure. When you get a measurement, you’ll look at a fraction like this: 142/93. The top number is the systolic pressure, which is when the heart is pumping, and the bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which is when the heart is at rest.
According to the 7th report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7), there are four categories of risk when it comes to blood pressure. These are listed below (2):
Despite antihypertensive medication not being indicated for prehypertensive patients without comorbid conditions like diabetes or heart disease (rather, lifestyle modification is the preferred treatment), physicians regularly prescribe these medications to those who fall in that category. Whether you have prehypertension and you’re not on medication or if you’re further along and on medication (and perhaps trying to get off it), lifestyle changes can absolutely help to lower your blood pressure.
Why Salt Won’t Make or Break Your Blood Pressure
We’ve heard for decades that if we have high blood pressure, we need to reduce our sodium intake. Not so fast. Studies show that lowering sodium intake only has a small effect on blood pressure. (3) Plus, despite the fact the high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease, we’re actually more likely to die of heart disease when we reduce our sodium intake. One study showed that both excessive sodium excretion (a marker of how much sodium we’ve consumed) and low sodium excretion are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular complications. (4) The takeaway? Eating a ton of salt isn’t good, but lowering salt to the recommendations currently set by the USDA (1,500mg for those with high blood pressure) isn’t a good idea either. Your best bet to make this a reality is to avoid processed foods that are packed with sodium (we get 75% of our sodium from processed foods in the US), but salt your food to taste – you’ll likely end up right where you need to be. (5)
Focus Less on Salt, More on Potassium
While cuts in salt intake only modestly reduce blood pressure (and increase risk for heart disease), potassium supplementation has been shown to significantly lower blood pressure. (6) In the United States, less than 2% of adults meet the recommendation for potassium intake (>4700 mg). (7) Thankfully, you’re much more likely than the average Standard American Dieter to be getting enough potassium if you’re on a Paleo diet. Why? Fruits and vegetables are usually a big part of a Paleo eater’s diet, and that’s where we find lots of potassium. However, if you’re on a Paleo diet and still having trouble with your blood pressure, see how many of these high-potassium foods you’re eating on a regular basis. If it’s not many, it may be time to increase your intake! Of course you’ll always want to stay away from any foods that you have a sensitivity to, but otherwise feel free to eat any of these foods for a hefty dose. I’ve included a list of 15 high-potassium foods below to get you started. You’ll notice that many of the foods high in potassium are starchy, so if you have high blood pressure (and you’re not dealing with another condition that requires you to be on a strict low-carbohydrate diet), it’s best to include some starchy tubers and fruits. If there’s anything to worry about, it’s reducing your intake of added sugar in processed foods (not real, whole food carbohydrates), as those have been associated with high blood pressure and cutting them out reduces blood pressure. (8)
15 Paleo High Potassium Foods:
|Potato, baked||1 medium||897|
|Spinach, boiled||1 cup||839|
|Plantain, cooked||1 cup||716|
|Avocado, sliced||1 cup||708|
|Medjool Date, pitted||4 dates||668|
|Acorn squash, boiled||1 cup||644|
|Butternut squash, baked||1 cup||582|
|Parsnips, boiled||1 cup||572|
|Pumpkin, boiled||1 cup||564|
|Sweet potato, baked||1 medium||542|
|Portobello mushrooms, grilled||1 cup||529|
|Banana, sliced||1 cup||537|
|Red Tomatoes, cooked||1 cup||523|
|Beets, boiled||1 cup||518|
|Cantaloupe, cubed||1 cup||427|
**Note that boiling a food lowers its potassium content. The USDA only provides cooked nutrition information for some foods in the boiled form, which is why they are included that way here. Don’t switch to boiling your food just because you see it like that here!
Extra Tips for Lowering Blood Pressure Naturally
Eating more potassium isn’t the only thing you can do to control your blood pressure. In fact, there’s a whole lot else you can do, too! Try one (or all 10) of these tips for better blood pressure:
- Lose weight (if you’re overweight). Research shows that losing weight is more beneficial for blood pressure than restricting salt intake. (9)
- Eat cold-water fish (such as salmon and sardines) for omega-3 fatty acids as they have been shown to reduce blood pressure. (10)
- Supplement with magnesium, at least 370 mg a day. (11) Combining magnesium supplementation with increased potassium intake can be as effective as a single anti-hypertensive medication. (12)
- Drink hibiscus tea. Three cups a day keeps the doctor away, according to research. (13)
- Drink black tea. Again, three cups a day will do the trick. (14) (Sarah notes that some people may need to limit black tea consumption based on their individual situation)
- Eat more garlic – it’s been shown to reduce high blood pressure. (15)
- Increase your polyphenol consumption (which, by the way, also helps improve your gut bacteria). Studies show that polyphenol-rich dark chocolate helps to lower blood pressure. (16, 17)
- Supplement with CoQ10. A randomized controlled trial showed that those who supplemented with 60 mg of CoQ10 twice daily over 12 weeks reduced systolic blood pressure by almost 18 points! (18)
- Get more sleep. Sleep deprivation causes increases in blood pressure (19) and sleep apnea is the most common condition associated with resistant hypertension. (20)
- Use mind-body medicine techniques. Meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and biofeedback all reduce blood pressure. (21, 22, 23, 24)
I’d love to hear from you. What tips have you tried? Do you have any other tips that have worked well for you? Submit them in the comments!