Certain dietary habits, such as consuming too much red meat, alcohol, or saturated fat, may increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure. Maintaining a balanced diet can help people manage and prevent hypertension.

A balanced diet may include plant-based foods, whole grains, and healthy fats. Along with other measures, these foods can help manage blood pressure.

Almost 50% of adults in the United States have hypertension, which may increase their risk of heart disease, stroke, and many other health conditions.

Foods high in salt or added sugars — such as soda and caffeinated drinks, baked goods, and many packaged foods — can contribute to high blood pressure. Limiting or replacing these foods in the diet can help people manage or lower their blood pressure.

This article presents 50 foods and drinks that could contribute to high blood pressure, alternative foods a person can include in their diet, recipe ideas, and more.

A person in a supermarket looking at foods to avoid for high blood pressure.-1Share on Pinterest
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High sodium consumption can elevate blood pressure. Many people eat too much sodium without realizing it.

Highly processed foods and fast foods usually contain excessive amounts of sodium, often more than the 2,300 milligrams a person should consume daily.

People can check nutrition labels for a food’s sodium levels. Even some foods people may consider healthy, such as vegetable juice, may be high in sodium.

The American Heart Association (AHA) lists the following examples of foods high in sodium:

  1. burgers
  2. pizza
  3. sandwiches
  4. cold cuts and cured meats
  5. canned soup
  6. tacos and burritos

Foods with added sugar can raise a person’s risk of unintentional weight gain and may contribute to high blood pressure.

The authors of a 2021 review suggest that fructose consumption is a major cause of hypertension. They highlight research that suggests fructose may increase salt absorption and trigger insulin expression, which could contribute to high blood pressure.

The following foods may contain high fructose corn syrup:

  1. processed desserts
  2. crackers
  3. granola bars and other nutrition bars
  4. peanut butter

People can check food packaging to ensure that they choose products free from high fructose corn syrup.

Learn more about high fructose corn syrup.

Red meat — particularly processed red meat — can raise blood pressure. And the process of metabolizing red meat in the body may release compounds that elevate blood pressure even more.

The following are all red meats:

  1. beef
  2. lamb
  3. pork
  4. veal
  5. venison
  6. goat

The AHA recommends that people be mindful of their portions when eating red meat and try to choose alternatives, such as leaner cuts or unprocessed meats.

While having the occasional sugary beverage can be OK, drinking lots of sugar-sweetened drinks may raise blood pressure.

Moreover, many sugary drinks also contain caffeine, which can elevate blood pressure even more in people with severely high blood pressure.

The following sugary drinks may contain caffeine or high fructose corn syrup:

  1. sodas
  2. fruit juices
  3. energy drinks

Drinking too much alcohol can raise a person’s blood pressure, according to the AHA. Excessive alcohol consumption may also be an independent risk factor for heart disease.

Additionally, alcohol contains lots of empty calories. Alcohol consumption may contribute to unintentional weight gain or replace healthier meal or beverage options.

The AHA advises that males limit alcohol to two drinks per day and that females have no more than one drink per day.

People looking to lower their blood pressure or reduce their risk of high blood pressure should limit their intake of saturated fats.

For most people, this means that no more than 5–6% of daily calories should come from saturated fats, which can be present in sweets and baked goods.

Examples of foods containing saturated fats include:

  1. desserts such as chocolate, toffee, cakes, puddings, cookies, pastries, and pies
  2. processed meats, including sausages, burgers, bacon, and kebabs
  3. cooking fats such as butter, lard, ghee, margarine, goose fat, and suet
  4. oils, including coconut oil and palm oil
  5. full-fat dairy products such as cream, milk, yogurt, creme fraiche, and cheese

Some packaged foods that might seem healthy, such as vegetable- and meat-based meals, may get much of their flavor from high levels of salt, sugar, and fat.

To reduce the risk of increasing blood pressure, people can limit or avoid these foods or check nutrition labels and choose only products that have a relatively low sodium content.

A person with high blood pressure does not need to avoid all condiments. However, it is important to check the labels, as some products can contain large amounts of sugar or sodium.

It is also important not to rely on taste, as even condiments that do not taste salty may be high in sodium.

Examples of condiments that may contain large amounts of salt or sugar include:

  1. ketchup
  2. hot sauce
  3. soy sauce
  4. salad dressings

People can check the packaging and replace condiments they often use with products lower in salt, sugar, or both.

Excessive consumption of caffeine-rich drinks — such as drinking more than four cups of coffee daily — can increase blood pressure levels.

The AHA suggests that consuming two or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day may also increase the risk of severe complications in people with hypertension.

People who are trying to limit their caffeine consumption may choose to drink less regular coffee or replace it with decaffeinated coffee.

People with a history of high blood pressure may benefit from contacting a doctor to discuss decreasing or eliminating their caffeine intake.

Eating a varied diet full of nutrient-dense foods can help people lower and manage their blood pressure. People can include the following foods in their diet:

  • whole grains
  • fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens, avocados, berries, and citrus fruits
  • lean meats, including grilled chicken, chicken breast, and fish
  • other protein sources, such as lentils, nuts, quinoa, and tofu

Replacement ideas

People can consider replacing processed foods with heart-healthy alternatives. For example, instead of a sugary snack, they might choose some fresh fruit.

People could also opt for flavored water rather than soda or replace high salt condiments with cracked pepper and jalapeño.

To work toward a more balanced diet, people can start by replacing one food from this article each week or gradually eating smaller portions.

The following table shows how many servings of various foods a person should include per day according to the number of calories they consume:

1,400–1,600 calories1,800–2,000 calories2,600 calories
Fat-free or low fat
milk products
Lean meats, poultry, and
3–46 or less6
Nuts, seeds, and legumes
(per week)
Fats and oils1–22–33
Sweets and added sugars3 or less per week5 or less per week 2 or less

Meal ideas

For example, a person can eat the following foods throughout the day:

  • Breakfast: whole grain toast with fruit and a glass of milk or oatmeal with fruit
  • Lunch: grilled chicken with a side salad or a bowl of quinoa and a serving of fruit
  • Snack: fruit, vegetables, cheese, whole grain pasta or bread, or a fruit and vegetable smoothie
  • Dinner: whole grain pasta, eggs, and a vegetable or fruit, or nuts with lean meat, such as turkey or fish, and a few fruit sides

Lifestyle changes such as the following can help lower blood pressure and improve heart health:

A person should also get enough exercise whenever possible. Some people may benefit from starting small and gradually working up to more activity.

People may also wish to ask a doctor whether blood pressure medication may be beneficial for them.

High blood pressure increases the risk of health conditions such as:

High blood pressure is a medical emergency if the systolic blood pressure (the top number) is above 180 or the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) is above 120.

A person should consult a doctor if:

  • they believe they have high blood pressure
  • their blood pressure remains high despite lifestyle and dietary changes
  • their blood pressure continues to rise
  • they experience side effects from blood pressure medication

High blood pressure is a serious health risk factor that can lead to heart attacks, stroke, and other severe complications. However, lifestyle strategies, including dietary changes, can help people manage high blood pressure.

Eating a varied diet with plenty of nutrient-dense foods can help a person lower their blood pressure and minimize their risk of complications.

People should limit their consumption of highly processed foods and foods high in salt and fructose.

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