Medications, dietary changes, and other lifestyle modifications can reduce high blood pressure while lowering the risk of associated conditions. Having high blood pressure increases a person's risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
In this article, we discuss foods that can help to reduce high blood pressure and provide the scientific evidence.
Fifteen foods that help to lower blood pressure
Many researchers have found that certain foods can lower high blood pressure. We look at which foods work and how to incorporate them into a healthful diet.
Blueberries and strawberries contain anthocyanins, which can help reduce a person's blood pressure.
Researchers conducted a large study with more than 34,000 people with hypertension.
They found that those with the highest intake of anthocyanins — mainly from blueberries and strawberries — had an 8 percent reduction in the risk of high blood pressure, compared to those with a low anthocyanin intake.
Enjoy berries as a snack or sweet treat after meals, or add them to smoothies and oatmeal.
According to the American Heart Association, potassium reduces the effects of sodium and alleviates tension in the walls of the blood vessels.
Adults should aim to consume 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium daily. Other potassium-rich foods include:
- cantaloupe and honeydew melon
- sweet potatoes
People with kidney disease should speak to their doctors about potassium, as too much can be harmful.
Drinking beet juice can reduce blood pressure in the short and long terms.
In 2015, researchers reported that drinking red beet juice led to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension who drank 250 milliliters, about 1 cup, of the juice every day for 4 weeks. The researchers noticed some positive effects within 24 hours.
In this study, those who drank 1 cup of the beet juice every day had an average drop in blood pressure of around 8/4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). For many, this change brought their blood pressure within the normal range. On average, a single blood pressure medication reduces levels by 9/5 mm Hg.
The researchers suggested that beet's high levels of inorganic nitrate caused the reduction in blood pressure.
It may help to drink a glass of beet juice each day, add beets to salads, or prepare the vegetables as a healthful side dish.
4. Dark chocolate
This sweet treat may lower blood pressure. A review of 15 trials suggests that cocoa-rich chocolate reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension or prehypertension.
Choose high-quality chocolate that contains a minimum of 70 percent cocoa, and consume a single square, or a piece measuring about 1 ounce, each day.
A daily serving of kiwi can reduce blood pressure in people with mildly elevated levels, according to results of one study.
The researchers compared the effects of apples and kiwis on people with slightly high blood pressure.
They found that eating three kiwis a day for 8 weeks resulted in a more significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, compared with eating one apple a day for the same period. The authors suspect that the bioactive substances in kiwis caused the reduction.
Kiwis are also easy to add to lunches or smoothies.
Watermelon contains an amino acid called citrulline, which may help to manage high blood pressure.
Citrulline helps the body to produce nitric oxide, a gas that relaxes blood vessels and encourages flexibility in arteries. These effects aid the flow of blood, which can lower high blood pressure.
In one study, adults with obesity and prehypertension or mild hypertension who took watermelon extract showed reduced blood pressure in the ankles and brachial arteries. The brachial artery is the main artery in the upper arm.
Researchers have also found that animals given a diet rich in watermelon had better heart health. In one study, mice who drank a solution containing watermelon juice had 50 percent less plaque in their arteries than the control group.
The mice who drank the solution also had 50 percent less low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which many describe as bad cholesterol, and they showed 30 percent less weight gain than the control animals.
To boost watermelon intake, add the fruit to salads and smoothies, or enjoy it in a chilled watermelon soup.
Oats contain a type of fiber called beta-glucan, which may reduce blood cholesterol levels. Beta-glucan may also lower blood pressure, according to some research.
A review of 28 trials concluded that higher consumption of beta-glucan fiber may lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Barley also contains this fiber.
Start the day off with a bowl of oatmeal, or use rolled oats instead of breadcrumbs to give texture to meat or vegetarian burger patties.
8. Leafy green vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are rich in nitrates, which help to manage blood pressure. Some research suggests that eating 1–2 servings of nitrate-rich vegetables every day can reduce hypertension for up to 24 hours.
Examples of leafy greens include:
- collard greens
- mustard greens
- Swiss chard
To consume a daily dose of green vegetables, stir spinach into curries and stews, sauté Swiss chard with garlic for a tasty side dish, or bake a batch of kale chips.
Eating garlic can increase a person's nitric oxide levels.
Garlic is a natural antibiotic and antifungal food. Its main active ingredient, allicin, is often responsible for associated health benefits.
Some research suggests that garlic increases the body's production of nitric oxide, which helps the smooth muscles to relax and the blood vessels to dilate. These changes can reduce hypertension.
One study reported that garlic extract reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive people.
Garlic can enhance the flavor of many savory meals, including stir-fries, soups, and omelets. Using garlic instead of salt can further promote the health of the heart.
10. Fermented foods
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that play an important role in maintaining gut health. Eating probiotics can have a modest effect on high blood pressure, according to a review of nine studies.
The researchers reported more enhanced effects when study participants consumed:
- multiple species of probiotic bacteria
- probiotics regularly for more than 8 weeks
- at least 100 billion colony-forming units a day
Fermented foods to add to the diet include:
- natural yogurt
- apple cider vinegar
Some people prefer to take concentrated probiotic supplements every day.
11. Lentils and other pulses
Lentils are a staple of many diets around the world, as they are an excellent source of vegetarian protein and fiber.
In 2014, researchers who studied the effects of a diet rich in pulses on rats reported decreased levels of blood pressure and cholesterol. A total of 30 percent of the rats' diet comprised pulses, including beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas.
Lentils are very versatile. Many people use them as a vegetarian alternative to minced beef or to add bulk to salads, stews, and soups.
12. Natural yogurt
The America Heart Association has reported that yogurt may reduce the risk of high blood pressure in women.
The researchers found that middle-aged women who consumed five or more servings of yogurt each week for 18–30 years showed a 20 percent reduction in the risk of hypertension when compared to similarly aged women who rarely ate yogurt.
The men in the study did not appear to have the same benefits, but their yogurt intakes tended to be lower.
It is important to note that the National Dairy Council in the U.S. funded this research.
Unsweetened yogurts, such as natural or Greek yogurts, tend to have more benefits. Enjoy them with fruit, nuts, or seeds for a healthful snack or dessert.
Drinking 1 cup of pomegranate juice daily for 28 days can lower high blood pressure in the short term, according to the findings of a study from 2012. The researchers attributed this effect to the fruit's antioxidant content.
While pomegranates can be enjoyed whole, some people prefer the juice. When buying pre-packaged pomegranate juice, check to ensure that there is no added sugar.
Cinnamon may also help to reduce blood pressure, at least in the short-term.
An analysis of three studies showed that cinnamon decreased short-term systolic blood pressure by 5.39 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.6 mm Hg. However, more research is needed.
Add cinnamon to the diet by sprinkling it over oatmeal or freshly chopped fruit, as an alternative to sugar.
Consuming pistachio nuts may decrease a person's risk of hypertension.
Pistachios are healthful nuts that may decrease hypertension.
One study reported that including pistachio nuts in a moderate-fat diet may reduce blood pressure during times of stress. This may be because a compound in the nuts reduces the tightness of blood vessels.
It is important to note that the California Pistachio Commission of Fresno and the American Pistachio Growers funded this small-scale study.
Other studies have found that other nuts, such as almonds, had a similar effect.
Snack on plain pistachios, toss them into salads, or blend them into pestos. Unsalted nuts are more healthful.
Foods to avoid
While some foods may relieve hypertension, others can cause substantial increases in blood pressure.
People can prevent or reduce high blood pressure by avoiding the following:
Sodium can significantly raise blood pressure. According to the findings of a review from 2013, lowering salt intake by 4.4 grams daily substantially reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
The caffeine in coffee, tea, cola, and energy drinks can cause short-term spikes in blood pressure.
A review of five trials found that drinking up to 2 cups of strong coffee can increase both systolic and diastolic blood pressure for 3 hours after consumption.
These findings do not suggest that coffee increases blood pressure or the risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term.
Consuming moderate amounts of red wine may have some health benefits, but larger amounts of alcohol can cause dramatic increases in blood pressure.
A healthful diet and lifestyle can help to reduce the risk of hypertension.
Foods that may lower blood pressure include fruits, vegetables, oats, nuts, lentils, herbs, and spices.
Incorporate these into a balanced diet and engage in adequate physical activity to treat hypertension and improve overall health.