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Can You Lower Your Blood Pressure with Food?

To lower your blood pressure with food, emphasize vegetables and skip the sweets. Following a DASH diet and eating plenty of garlic (or taking a supplement) can help.
Can You Lower Your Blood Pressure with Food?
Portrait of senior Japanese man checking his blood pressure on white background

When the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association collaborated on new blood pressure guidelines in 2017, the cut-off numbers for hypertension got lower. That means a lot more people have to worry about high blood pressure. But not everyone with blood pressure higher than 120/80 needs medicine. Are there ways you can lower your blood pressure with food? Luckily, some very tasty foods can help you bring those numbers down.

Lower Your Blood Pressure with Food:

Q. Please tell us some foods that can alleviate high blood pressure. I know about celery, beets and pomegranate juice. Are there others?

A. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) is well established as a way to lower blood pressure. This diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. Other foods that may be beneficial for hypertension include blueberries, dark chocolate, purple grape juice, garlic, green tea, hibiscus tea and turmeric.

Maximize Your Minerals:

Foods that are high in magnesium and potassium may also help. They include almonds, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cashews, halibut, soybeans and spinach, among others.

Chocolate for Blood Pressure:

A meta-analysis of 42 studies confirms that chocolate or cocoa can help lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel flexibility (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March, 2012). People given cacao compounds also had lower insulin levels. The researchers cautioned, however, that many of the studies were less than perfect. They suggested people should not count on chocolate to improve heart health. But it doesn’t seem to us that a little bit would hurt.

Readers have commented on this news.

Helen M said:

“If I am not mistaken, the amount is less than an ounce a day. I find that 4 to 6 chocolate chips, at least 60% cacao, allows control over the amount. And is a nice end to my day.”

MTC noted:

“I recently read that Dove Dark chocolate uses a proprietary specially processed cocoa (Cocoapro) that provides very high levels of antioxidant flavonoids / flavanols that help lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, compared the high-flavanol Dove Dark chocolate with other low-flavanol dark chocolate, and only the Dove Dark reduced LDL oxidation and boosted antioxidant levels and HDL concentrations in the blood. The problem, of course, is that any chocolate is high in calories and fat content, and one can eat only a small amount daily to avoid weight gain with related adverse side effects. I eat five small pieces a day (about 200 calories), but this may not be enough to provide the beneficial levels of antioxidants mentioned above.”

Stay Away from Fructose:

Scientists have found evidence that people who consume more fructose are at increased risk for high blood pressure. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that people who took in more than 74 grams of fructose daily were 36 percent more likely to have blood pressures of 140/90 (Jalal et al, Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Sep. 2010). Moreover, people eating or drinking 74 grams or more fructose were 87 percent more likely than others to have blood pressure readings closer to 160/100. Two and a half regular soft drinks contain 74 grams of fructose. You will also find fructose in agave syrup, baked goods, candy, jam, syrup, honey, applesauce and dried fruit, so you need to read labels. If you drink less soda, you can lower your blood pressure (Chen, Circulation, June 8, 2010). But switching to artificially-sweetened soda won’t help. People who drink beverages with artificial sweeteners also are at greater risk for hypertension (Kim & Je, Archives of Cardiovascular Diseases, April 2016).

How About Garlic?

Many people have heard about the benefits of garlic to lower blood pressure. Is this just an old wives’ tale? That is what one reader asked:

Q. An old doctor told my husband that Kyolic garlic capsules might bring his blood pressure down. I started taking them myself, one in the morning and one at night. Now my blood pressure is lower than normal most of the time. My doctor has taken me off the atenolol and lisinopril I used to take.

A. You did this experiment properly, with your doctor’s supervision. People should not stop blood pressure medication on their own.

There have been many studies on garlic and blood pressure, but the results have been mixed. A review and meta-analysis from Australia concluded that garlic worked better than placebo in lowering blood pressure (Ried et al, BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, June 2008).

How does that work? Apparently, garlic, white onion and purple onion are all capable of inhibiting angiotensin-converting enzyme (Oboh et al, Journal of Dietary Supplements, online March 9, 2018). That is the same way drugs like lisinopril or captopril work, though we don’t suggest you swap your medicine for garlic to lower your blood pressure with food. In one small, non-blinded trial, 40 people who took raw crushed garlic twice a day for a month lowered their blood pressure (Choudhary et al, Journal of Dietary Supplements, online Sep. 28, 2017). A randomized controlled trial found that aged garlic extract (Kyolic brand) lowered blood pressure in people whose blood pressure was high even though they were taking medication (Ried et al, Integrated Blood Pressure Control, Jan. 27, 2016).

Learn More:

You can learn more about the details of the DASH diet and other ways to lower your blood pressure with food in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.  Do not forget that regular exercise and weight loss are powerful tools for blood pressure control. Relaxation techniques and slow breathing exercises can also be helpful.

You may wish to listen to our discussion of this topic with Dr. Steve Nissen, chair of the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. You’ll find it on Show 1111: What Should You Know about Controversies in Cardiology?

Measuring Your Blood Pressure:

To learn whether your blood pressure is too high, you need to measure it correctly. You’ll find some detailed instructions here and here. Make sure the cuff is the right size for your arm, sit with your back supported and your feet on the floor, and support the arm on a table or shelf at heart height. Don’t talk (or sing, or laugh) while you are measuring your blood pressure, and don’t take the measurement with a full bladder. We also offer details on how to measure your blood pressure properly in our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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