Blood Pressure & Nutrition for Adults

Both weight and daily nutrition can have a significant effect on blood pressure. Obesity/overweight, living a sedentary lifestyle, and eating unhealthy foods increase the risk for developing high blood pressure (hypertension).

Some patients may require medication for high blood pressure and others may be able to use diet and exercise to control it—with regular supervision from a qualified health care provider. Dietary changes can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. It is important to include lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise because medications alone often do not control high blood pressure adequately.

Recommended dietary changes include the following:

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Reduce dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Eat foods lower in sodium and added salt.
  • Eliminate trans fats from the diet (found in foods with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils).

According to our sister publication Diabetes Focus Spring 2013, a recent study suggests that people who ate at least six ounces of low-fat yogurt 2 or 3 times a week are 31 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who don't eat yogurt. More research is needed, but add some fresh fruit for a quick breakfast or a midday snack.

Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and important nutrients. Minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium are known to help lower blood pressure. Check with a qualified health care provider before taking vitamin or mineral supplements.

To reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet, choose lean meats, fish, and poultry without the skin. Use the Nutrition Facts label to make healthier choices when shopping. Substitute beans, lentils, or tofu for meat 2-3 times per week. Reduce the amount of butter, margarine, and salad dressings used and switch to low- or non-fat milk and yogurt.

Other sources of saturated fat and cholesterol are cheeses, sour cream, cream cheese, ice cream, chocolate candies, and baked goods. Avoid or limit cookies, cakes, pastries, and other sweets. Based on an average 2000 calorie per day diet, saturated fat should be less than 15 grams.

To reduce the amount of sodium in the diet, check the Nutrition Facts label on all foods, especially prepared foods such as frozen entrees, frozen pizzas, flavored seasoning mixes, and canned soups for sodium content. A food that is low in sodium has less than 140 mg per serving.

Avoid high-sodium foods such as smoked meats and fish, pickles, condiments, and canned foods. When dining out, ask how foods are prepared and request that the food be made without added salt, soy sauce, or MSG (monosodium glutamate). Also, try seasoning with herbs, spices, citrus, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends instead of salt.

Because trans fats raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol in the blood, they should be avoided or strictly limited. Hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils contain trans fat. These oils may be found in French fries from fast food restaurants, some brands of peanut butter, microwave popcorn, cookies, chips, and crackers.

Check the ingredients list for hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils—and avoid foods that have them. Use canola, olive, or corn oils when cooking and choose food products made with these oils.

Due to potentially high levels of mercury, avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Talk with a qualified health care provider, registered dietician, or nutritionist about the safety of fish.

Patients who have high blood pressure should learn about using food labels to make healthy choices and have blood pressure checked regularly. Because high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, please see Heart Disease Nutrition and talk with a qualified health care provider for more information about how diet influences high blood pressure.

Publication Review By: Jagdish Patel, M.D., F.A.C.C., Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Mar 2007

Last Modified: 20 Feb 2013