High blood pressure is a serious medical issue that impacts one in five adult Australians.
If high blood pressure (hypertension) is left unmanaged over a long period of time, its consequences can become deadly. Hypertension could lead to a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or kidney disease.
Around 26 per cent of people living in the most disadvantaged areas of Australia have high blood pressure. At least one-in-four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are estimated to have untreated or uncontrolled hypertension.
So what can we do about it?
By making a few lifestyle changes and altering what you eat, you may be able to improve the way you manage hypertension. Here are five evidence-based food tips that can help you eat your way to lower blood pressure as needed.
1. Start cooking wholegrain recipes
Wholegrain foods like bread and pasta are often demonised for being an anti-diet food group. But that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to good heart health.
This recommendation is backed by evidence, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation in 2016, showing that a higher intake of wholegrains may be linked to better health and a 28 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality.
The study, which reviewed 14 studies including more than 780,000 participants, found that a higher intake of wholegrains was associated with a lower risk of death from heart and circulatory disease and cancer
The findings back the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends at least three servings per day of WG intake. Meanwhile, Australian Dietary Guidelines advises that adults should eat four-to-six serves of grain (cereal) foods every day, with at least two-thirds being a wholegrain or high fibre option.
2. It’s time to get cheesy
The Heart Foundation also suggests that people incorporate low fat, unflavoured dairy products like milk and yoghurt into a diet that’s rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods. The organisation says online that this sort of dairy-fuelled diet has been “linked to greater reductions in blood pressure than increasing fruit and veg intake alone”.
A review of the evidence to address targeted questions to inform the revision of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, published in 2011, also specifies that the “consumption of three servings of low-fat dairy foods is associated with reduced risk of hypertension”.
The paper’s advice on low-fat dairy foods was deemed to apply to people from most Western cultures, as it was based on one review and five cohort studies from countries like Denmark, the USA and Spain.
Low-fat dairy in Australia is defined as being less than or equal to 1.5 g fat/100 g milk and less than or equal to 3 g fat/100 g of cheese or yoghurt.
“Purple, red and blue fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanin - a powerful antioxidant. This antioxidant has the potential to protect [your heart] from damage and also reduce your risk of heart disease."
3. Snack on blueberries
Anika Rouf, Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says eating a balanced diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables could also reduce blood pressure in people who have hypertension.
“Purple, red and blue fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanin - a powerful antioxidant. This antioxidant has the potential to protect [your heart] from damage and also reduce your risk of heart disease,” Rouf tells SBS.
Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that are found in many coloured foods, including blueberries. Research suggests that the anthocyanins in blueberries may be very effective at promoting healthy blood pressure levels.
A study, published in the Journal of Gerontology Series A this year, found that eating 200g of blueberries every day for a month can lead to an improvement in blood vessel function. The month-long trial on 40 people showed that blueberries could also decrease in systolic blood pressure in healthy people.
4. Drink nitrate-rich beetroot juice
“Beetroot is a really great example of a purple food that can confer a positive health benefit,” says Rouf. “Beetroots contain nitrates, which are thought to reduce blood pressure and boost physical performance.”
Studies have shown that a diet including inorganic nitrates from foods like beetroot may be able to lower blood pressure.
International research published in the journal Hypertension in 2015 assessed whether dietary nitrate might lower blood pressure in 68 hypertensive patients.
The double-blind clinical trial saw participants receive a daily dietary supplementation of either a dietary nitrate (250mL daily, as beetroot juice) or a placebo (nitrate-free beetroot juice) for four weeks. The results showed that having dietary nitrate in the form of beetroot juice, daily, is associated with a reduction in blood pressure.
More research is needed to confirm the use of beets and beetroot juice in the long-term fight against hypertension.
5. Cut added salt from your diet
Limiting your dietary salt intake is a simple way to improve your heart health and manage hypertension.
“To reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease, the Heart Foundation recommends adults eat less than 5g of salt (2000mg of sodium) a day,” the Heart Foundation advises online.
“That’s less than a teaspoon a day.”
When cooking, consider swapping out added salt with herbs and spices for flavour. When purchasing packaged foods from the supermarket, always check the nutrition information panel at the back of the packet to identify the sodium content.