Eating a plant-filled diet is an essential principle of lifestyle medicine and a proven way to manage blood pressure.
Decades of research show that eating fewer processed foods and more plants leads to better health. According to the Adventist Health Study, only 7 percent of people who eat plant-based diets have hypertension, compared with 23 percent of non-vegetarians.
A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products (and low in saturated fat and cholesterol) can lower high blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg within two weeks, according to the same study. (The abbreviation mm Hg stands for millimeters of mercury and is how pressure is measured.)
Try DASH or Mediterranean diets
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet focus on including leafy greens, fruits, veggies, and lean proteins in meals. Learn more about plant-based eating and how to fit more plants into your diet in this article by Natalie Leustek, Vancouver Clinic dietitian.
Eating better comes down to filling your plate with healthy foods, so there’s less room for unhealthy options. And remember, it’s okay to include a reasonable dessert. Food should fuel our bodies and bring us joy!
Single out sodium
In addition to eating plants, keeping sodium intake in check can have a significant impact on your blood pressure.
Even a small reduction in sodium intake can improve heart health, reducing blood pressure by 5 mm Hg. In general, try to limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. A lower sodium intake—1,500 mg a day or less—is even better!
To reduce sodium:
- Read food labels. Look for low-sodium versions of foods and beverages. These usually have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. More than 500 mg of sodium per serving is considered a high-sodium food.
- Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
- Avoid salt. Use herbs or spices to add flavor to food.
- Cook at home. Cooking lets you control the amount of sodium in your food.
Read about another way lifestyle medicine can help you prevent hypertension:
Dr. Joan Hunter is an internist at Vancouver Clinic. She enjoys working with patients to help them make small changes that lead to better wellness. She has a special interest in women’s health and lifestyle medicine.