Dietary Tips for High Blood Pressure

Although many of us may not consider the importance of looking after our heart health until later on in life, it is paramount that we take steps within our control to reduce the risk of heart related conditions and diseases, irrespective of our age.

It is thought that 1 in 3 adults in the U.K currently have high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the global leading cause of death. Research by blood pressure UK, the UK’s leading blood pressure charity estimates 350 people in the UK have a potentially preventable heart attack or stroke caused by the condition every day.

In addition to ensuring we’re regularly partaking in physical activity, getting sufficient, good quality sleep and managing stress, there are a number of ways in which we can prevent our risk of heart disease through our diet, too.

Reduce salt intake

In the U.K, the reference nutrient intake for salt is 6g a day, however the average intake in the U.K is currently at 8.1g a day. If we regularly add salt to our food, or consume a high amount of foods that contain added salt, this can have a significant impact on increasing our blood pressure, so it is important to take steps to reduce this in the diet.

Use pepper, herbs, spices and citrus to flavour your dishes and try to practice reading labels if buying packaged foods. In the absence of a traffic light label, anything between 0.3-1.5g of salt per 100g contains a moderate amount of salt and anything over 1.5g of salt per 100g contains a high amount of salt and should be eaten in moderation. Keep mindful of foods naturally high in salt such as processed and cured meats, and look for lower salt versions of stocks and sauces such as soy sauce that are usually high in salt.⁣

⁣Older people, those with dark skin or cover up, or are spending a lot of time indoors, are at more risk of deficiency so it is advised to supplement all year round.

Don't forget your 5-a-day

As well as providing a source of fibre, ensuring you’re getting your 5-a-day is key for good heart health, providing essential nutrients such as potassium which may have a direct impact on reducing blood pressure when regularly consumed, as well as magnesium, folate, and antioxidants which play a role in reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, which can cause your arteries to narrow and reduce blood flow.

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, remember to eat the rainbow! Each colour provides a unique set of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to contribute towards our nutrient requirements. If you struggle to get your 5-a-day, as a minimum, aim for 1 portion of veg or salad at lunch, 2 handfuls at dinner and 2-3 portions of fruit as a healthy snack or as a breakfast topping. 80g of fresh, frozen or tinned which 1 portion or 30g of dried fruit.

Swap to healthy fats

Making healthy fat swaps such as reducing your saturated fat intake (found mostly in fatty meats, butter and coconut oil) and introducing more unsaturated fats from oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive and rapeseed oil can help to optimise cholesterol levels, and can support maintaining a healthy weight, which in turn can help to keep blood pressure stable. Essential omega-3 fatty acids, found most abundantly in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and pilchards support a healthy heart. It's important to obtain these through our diet as our body can’t make omega-3 itself. If you eat fish, aim to include at least 1 portion of oily, and 1 portion of non oily fish. If you follow a plant-based diet, you may benefit from an algae based omega-3 supplement, and you can also find some in walnuts, chia and linseeds, as well as rapeseed oil.

Drink alcohol in moderation

Regularly consuming more than the weekly maximum recommended amount of alcohol as well as drinking in excess can cause stress and damage to the heart, increasing blood pressure as well as causing damage to other essential organs in the body, such as the brain and liver. If you consume more than 14 units a week (1 large glass of wine is approximately 3 units, a pint of beer is 2 units and 25ml of spirits is 1 unit), try to include at least 3-4 alcohol free days a week and don’t save all your units up at once for the weekend! There are some great options for alcohol free or low alcohol beers, spirits and wines, so take a look in your local supermarket to see what’s available!

By Nichola Ludlam-Raine, Specialist Dietitian at Ramsay Health Care

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