Foods To Avoid With High Blood Pressure

  • Ella Dyer Bachelor of Science - BSc, University of Kent, UK

Introduction

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition characterised by consistently high pressure of blood in your arteries. This results in your heart having to work harder to pump blood around your body and can lead to various health conditions - such as heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes - if left unmanaged. Healthy blood pressure is generally considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, while high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher. 

High blood pressure typically develops over time and can be influenced by genetics and lifestyle factors. For example, if you are overweight, have a lot of stress, or smoke, you are more at risk of developing hypertension. Another vital element that contributes to high blood pressure is diet. In particular, consuming foods high in nutrients such as salt, sugar, and fat can increase your hypertension risk as well as your chances of being overweight. This article provides guidance on which foods to avoid to help manage high blood pressure, alongside proactive steps to support cardiovascular health. 

Foods to avoid

Sodium-rich foods

Sodium, which is found in salt, is arguably the most influential nutrient in the context of blood pressure. It causes your body to hold onto water, so consuming sodium in high quantities leads to excess water in your blood vessels and subsequent high blood pressure. High sodium intake also influences hypertension in other ways - such as by damaging the structure of arteries in a way that limits their function.1 Common sources of sodium include convenience foods and condiments, where sodium is used as a preservative or flavour enhancer. Examples include:

  • Crisps
  • Ready meals
  • Tinned soup
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Sliced meats 
  • Ketchup
  • Soy sauce

Reducing your consumption of these foods will help you reduce your sodium intake - in turn, helping you manage your blood pressure. Opt for low sodium alternatives such as fresh, whole vegetables and lean meats, and substitute condiments for those with reduced salt content (many brands offer low salt varieties). 

High-sugar foods and drinks

Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to various health issues - one of which is high blood pressure. This link is primarily indirect, whereby high sugar intake increases your likelihood of being overweight and developing type 2 diabetes - both of which are risk factors for hypertension. Foods and drinks high in sugar include:

  • Biscuits
  • Cakes
  • Chocolate 
  • Sweets
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Spreads like jam and marmalade
  • Tinned fruits 
  • Fizzy drinks 
  • Fruit juice

Limiting sugar intake by cutting down on these foods and drinks is crucial for blood pressure control. Substitute sugary drinks with water, herbal teas, or sugar-free alternatives, and choose healthier snacks, whole fruits, and unsweetened breakfast cereals. 

Saturated fat

Consuming too much fat in your diet - especially saturated fat - can negatively impact heart health by raising levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or ‘bad’ cholesterol.2 This increases your risk of developing cardiovascular issues like heart disease and stroke - which are risks also associated with hypertension. Therefore, by minimising your saturated fat intake, you will support your heart health and reduce your chances of complications. Common foods that are high in saturated fat are those made with animal products and some plant oils; these include:

  • Red meat and pork
  • Processed meat like sausages and bacon
  • Dairy products like cheese, cream, and butter
  • Baked products like pastries, cakes, and biscuits
  • Chocolate

To reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet and help manage your heart health, consume less red and processed meat and instead opt for leaner options such as poultry or fish. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and limit your intake of treats like chocolate and cakes. 

Alcohol

High blood pressure is the most common health problem associated with alcohol. The effects of alcohol on blood pressure occur due to multiple factors, including disruptions to the function of blood vessels.3 As well as this, high alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain - which will subsequently worsen your high blood pressure. 

It is advised that both men and women should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week in order to maintain their health and manage their blood pressure. To help you stay within the recommended weekly limit, check labels on drinks to keep track of the units you are consuming and consider opting for low-alcohol or alcohol-free alternatives. 

Practical tips for managing high blood pressure

Alongside avoiding certain foods, there are some further steps you can take to help manage your blood pressure and live a healthy life. 

Focus on whole foods

Incorporating plenty of whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your diet is beneficial in controlling blood pressure. Foods such as these are abundant in essential nutrients, including potassium. High potassium intake helps to avert the effects of sodium on water retention and the cardiovascular system, thereby regulating blood pressure levels.4

The benefits of a healthy and balanced diet extend beyond managing your blood pressure, as it provides your body with the necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to function optimally. This supports your overall health and reduces your risk of becoming overweight. 

Emphasise portion control

Also crucial for maintaining a healthy weight and managing blood pressure is portion control. This involves being mindful of the amount of food and drinks you consume throughout the day - which prevents you from overeating, and in turn, worsening your hypertension. 

There are some fundamental tips for managing your portion sizes. Examples of these are:

  • Serve your food on a smaller plate to prevent overloading your portions
  • Use measuring cups to determine your meal sizes
  • Avoid eating leftovers just because you don’t want them to go to waste

Pay attention to food labels

Acknowledging the information on food labels can enable you to make informed choices about the food you consume. When reading these labels, consider the colour-coding system with a particular focus on the nutrients that have a negative impact on blood pressure - namely sodium, sugar, and saturated fats. 

Look for products classed as low or medium in these three nutrients; men and women should aim to consume no more than 6g of salt and 30g of sugar per day. The maximum recommended intake of saturated fat depends on your sex - no more than 30g per day for men and no more than 20g per day for women.

FAQs

What is the best breakfast for high blood pressure?

Breakfasts consisting of whole foods - such as oats, natural yoghurt, eggs, and fruits like bananas and berries - will help to regulate your blood pressure and sustain you for the day, reducing your desire to snack. 

Do bananas lower blood pressure?

Bananas are a good source of potassium, which helps combat the detrimental effects of sodium on blood pressure. This makes them a healthy addition to your diet and a helpful tool for managing hypertension.

Will drinking more water lower blood pressure?

Dehydration can contribute to high blood pressure, and staying hydrated is essential for overall health. However, increasing your water intake alone will have limited benefits in lowering blood pressure; focus on dietary and lifestyle changes for maximum benefits. 

Does walking lower blood pressure?

Aerobic exercise - such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and dancing - is beneficial for your health and can also help to manage hypertension. This is especially the case if you usually have a minimally active lifestyle, with consistent walking shown to reduce blood pressure in sedentary adults with hypertension.5

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

Often, people with hypertension do not experience any symptoms - many people are unaware that they have it. When someone’s blood pressure reaches very high levels (usually 180/120mmHg or higher) they can experience symptoms such as severe headaches, chest pain, dizziness, and vision changes.

Summary

Managing high blood pressure involves making informed food and drink choices to support overall health and well-being. Aim to avoid foods high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat and limit your alcohol consumption to no more than 14 units per week. Alongside these dietary choices, implement practical steps for regulating your blood pressure - including incorporating more whole foods, emphasising portion control, and paying attention to food labels. 

These changes don’t necessarily have to be drastic - you don’t have to cut out foods entirely. What’s important is being aware of the nutritional composition of foods and making small, sustainable changes to ensure you’re making the right choices. If you do, you will be able to effectively manage your high blood pressure and take control of your health. 

References

  1. Grillo A, Salvi L, Coruzzi P, Salvi P, Parati G. Sodium Intake and Hypertension. Nutrients [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 11(9):1970. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770596/.
  2. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease: modulation by replacement nutrients. Curr Atheroscler Rep [Internet]. 2010 Nov [cited 2024 May 23];12(6):384–90. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11883-010-0131-6
  3. Piano MR. Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System. Alcohol Res [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 38(2):219–41. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513687/.
  4. Ellison DH, Terker AS. Why Your Mother Was Right: How Potassium Intake Reduces Blood Pressure. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 126:46–55. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4530669/.
  5. Mandini S, Conconi F, Mori E, Myers J, Grazzi G, Mazzoni G. Walking and hypertension: greater reductions in subjects with higher baseline systolic blood pressure following six months of guided walking. PeerJ [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 6:e5471. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6119598/.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Ella Dyer

Bachelor of Science - BSc, University of Kent, UK

Ella is a Biomedical Science graduate with a passion for writing and healthcare. She has a particular interest in cancer biology and immunology, and she is driven by a goal to foster widespread scientific literacy and health awareness.

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