What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure consists of 2 numbers that show the force with which your heart pumps blood to your body (higher number – systolic blood pressure) and the resistance of the wall’s arteries to the blood flow (lower number – diastolic blood pressure).1,2
When the force of this blood flowing is consistently high, that is when a diagnosis of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is made.3 A blood pressure level lower than 120/80 mmHg (millimetres of mercury, unit of measure) is considered normal. Values above this are considered abnormal.
Values between 120-139 (systolic) and 80-89 (diastolic) are considered at risk (pre-hypertension). Values from 140 to above (systolic) and 90 to above (diastolic) are already considered high blood pressure. Some professionals and guidelines consider values above 130/90 mmHg as hypertension.4
High blood pressure is a silent disease, and out of almost 1.3 billion people suffering from it, only half of the adults are aware of having it. It is even worse to think that only 20% of these adults have their blood pressure levels under control, which means that only 42% of the people with hypertension worldwide are diagnosed and treated.5
There are two types of hypertension:
Also known as essential hypertension, is a type of high blood pressure that does not have a clear cause and is more related to the risk factors. It generally develops over the years.
This type is related to some other condition the person might present with and generally appears suddenly and with very high levels of blood pressure. Can be related to thyroid dysfunction, kidney diseases, adrenal tumours, sleep apnea, drug abuse, medications, and congenital defects in the arteries of the body.4
Most of the time, there are no symptoms, even if the levels of blood pressure are very high. However, some people might present some signs like:
These are very unspecific symptoms, which might be related to other diseases and that do not tend to appear until the high blood pressure has reached a dangerous stage.4
The connection between blood pressure and diet
Blood pressure is directly related to diet. Food-derived minerals play a role in regulating blood pressure. Sodium, for example, is a mineral that can be found in almost all types of food and is directly associated with high blood pressure. Mostly found as salt, high levels of this mineral in the bloodstream make the body retain water, and the extra water in your vessels elevates the pressure in the arterial walls, leading the blood pressure to increase.6
Potassium is another mineral found in a variety of foods but, different from sodium, can help to control blood pressure. It is related to muscle function, including the ones in the arteries walls, controlling their relaxation, and its normal levels can help to keep blood pressure at normal values.
Magnesium is another electrolyte that can help to control blood pressure. Like potassium, this mineral is also related to blood vessel relaxation but is also responsible for many other processes, like the regulation of blood sugar, muscle and nerve function.
Another mineral responsible for regulating how blood vessels tighten and relax is calcium. The constriction of the arteries is directly related to the pressure the blood causes when flowing through them, and that is why these minerals have a direct impact on controlling blood pressure.7
Also, it is important to consider that food with a high amount of fat can raise your blood pressure by increasing the bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) and leading to being overweight, which are risk factors for high blood pressure.
What foods can help with hypertension?
There is a plan called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) that includes a healthier eating lifestyle focusing on controlling blood pressure. These include types of food that can help you fight high blood pressure. The recommendation is to increase the intake of the items listed below:8
- Low-fat dairy products
- Skinless poultry and fish
- Nuts and legumes
- Non-tropical vegetable oils
These types of foods will provide a healthy and balanced diet, containing the right amount of minerals that a person needs, as well as low amounts of salt and fat, helping to control blood pressure levels.
Foods that can increase blood pressure
Some types of diet should be avoided when controlling blood pressure since different types of foods can lead to hypertension. These are:
Mostly present in salt and salty food, this electrolyte can increase blood pressure and should be limited in our diet. Adults should not eat more than 6 grams of salt per day, which would be equivalent to 1 teaspoon (2.4g of sodium). Also, it is important to be careful with foods that already have a high amount of salt, like cheese, bacon, anchovies, olives, soy sauce, salami, pickles, prawns, smoked meat, etc.10
High alcohol consumption increases blood pressure, and the amount should be limited to one unit for women and two units for men a day maximum. Studies show that reducing alcohol reduces blood pressure in a dose-dependent manner and can cause a significant reduction in blood pressure, especially in heavy drinkers.
Caffeine might cause constriction of the blood vessels, preventing the arteries from widening, which as said above, can increase the pressure of the blood flowing through it. It is not advisable to drink more than 4 cups of coffee per day, but it is also important to keep in mind that caffeine can be present in other beverages like energy drinks, and sugary drinks like coke.11,12
Fatty and sugary food
Food rich in saturated fat can increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and also lead to being overweight and obese, which are risk factors for hypertension. Also, sugary food and sweets can increase the chance of being overweight and having diabetes.8
High blood pressure is a disease characterised by the high pressure of the blood flow in the blood vessels that can lead to several diseases like heart conditions, stroke, and kidney disease, and it is intimately related to diet and nutrition. A balanced diet with potassium, calcium, magnesium, fibre, and protein can help to control blood pressure, whilst a diet full of salt, caffeine, alcohol, and fatty and sugary foods can lead to hypertension. It is important to remember that a healthy diet can help prevent this silent disease that can lead to many others.
- High blood pressure (Hypertension) [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2017 [cited 2022 Sep 19]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/
- High blood pressure (Hypertension) - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Sep 19]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410
- The facts about high blood pressure [Internet]. www.heart.org. [cited 2022 Sep 19]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure
- CDC. High blood pressure symptoms, causes, and problems | cdc. Gov [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 19]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm
- Hypertension [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 19]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hypertension
- Blood pressure uk [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 20]. Available from: https://www.bloodpressureuk.org/your-blood-pressure/how-to-lower-your-blood-pressure/healthy-eating/salt-and-your-blood-pressure/
- Key minerals to help control blood pressure [Internet]. Harvard Health. 2014 [cited 2022 Sep 20]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/key-minerals-to-help-control-blood-pressure
- Dash eating plan | nhlbi, nih [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 20]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/dash-eating-plan
- Managing blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet [Internet]. www.heart.org. [cited 2022 Sep 20]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/managing-blood-pressure-with-a-heart-healthy-diet
- Salt: the facts [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 20]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/salt-nutrition/
- What caffeine does to blood pressure [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Sep 20]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure/faq-20058543
- High blood pressure (Hypertension) - Prevention [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2017 [cited 2022 Sep 20]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/prevention/