Some foods can raise blood pressure quickly after eating them, while others only cause minor gains.
A few foods only raise low blood pressure, meaning that they don’t have much of an effect unless your blood pressure is at a certain level, so you can eat them without much worry unless you are hypotensive (in which case you’d likely want something that works to raise blood pressure faster than food).
What Contributes to High Blood Pressure?
When discussing foods that contribute to high blood pressure, much attention has been placed on blood pressure and salt (or sodium) content of meals. This is because the pressure of blood flow against the vessel walls increases with the larger volume of water that sodium attracts. That being said, some amounts of sodium are necessary for blood pressure and blood volume management, just not in excess.
While the sodium-blood pressure connection is well established, another key factor may be the amount of sugar a patient with high blood pressure risk ingests from a variety of foods. Spikes in blood pressure may occur following the consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as the sugars found in processed foods. These types of food have little-to-no nutritional value.
A study published in the British Medical Journal suggests that, while more research and focus should be placed on blood pressure and sugar, there is evidence that sugar may be a bigger factor than sodium when it comes to high blood pressure risks. It also separates naturally occurring sugars from those found in pre-packaged foods such as high-fructose products.
Foods that Raise Blood Pressure: What to Avoid
1. Sea Salt
Sea salt is used as a substitute for table salt in preparing meals and as a flavoring for table use. This may be because a measuring utensil holds less of the larger-sized sea salt crystals. Sea salt also requires less processing for use.
Sea salt does, however, contain the same chemical amount of sodium as table salt at 40% content. Any recommended amount given for table salt based on personal use also applies to sea salt. Both should be limited, if not avoided, for high blood pressure patients.
2. Pizza and Processed Foods
Fresh and frozen pizza and other processed foods have large amounts of sodium, especially with additions such as tomato sauce, cheese, meats, and the dough. A frozen pizza may contain up to 1,000 milligrams of sodium in one-sixth of the total make-up of the pie.
Processed foods usually have additional salts added to maintain usability beyond a present time frame.
3. Foods and Drinks Eaten Out
Whether it is a fast-food spot or a high-end restaurant, many dishes on the menu have hidden high-sodium content. This can also apply to the specialty places that offer low-fat meals.
An appetizer and starting drink alone can contain more sodium than the recommended daily amount, and this is before an entrée is consumed. To control sodium intake and still enjoy eating out, request the dish be made with no added salt and have spices used for flavoring.
4. Energy Drinks
Energy drinks are a popular choice for younger generations, as they may offer a more instantaneous source of energy than a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverages. These flavored drinks contain large amounts of both sugar and sodium. Energy drinks have been shown to raise blood pressure levels high enough to be thought a risk for serious heart conditions.
A Mayo Clinic study compared the blood pressure and heart rate levels of 25 people ranging in ages from 19 to 40 years before and after drinking one energy drink. While the blood pressure levels rose significantly in all participants, those who did not usually have caffeine showed higher than expected blood pressure levels.
5. Frozen Fish and Seafood
Fresh fish have low sodium levels, while frozen fish can have high salt levels due to the freezing preparation process of using brine, oil, or syrup. These products also may have added salt for freshness and can affect the salt and blood pressure relationship, for the worse.
Most frozen shrimp choices contain high levels of sodium ranging from 100 to 500 milligrams in each three-ounce serving.
6. Deli Meat
Any form of processed meat should be avoided, since deli and lunch meats, including bacon, are extremely high in sodium—around 600 milligrams or more per two ounces of meat. Whether it’s cold cuts, turkey slices, bacon strips, or roast meat, if it’s from the deli it has likely been cured, seasoned, or otherwise preserved using a great deal of salt.
Pickling anything involves soaking it in a brine, and a brine is basically salt water—extremely fancy salt water that probably has other ingredients in it, but salt water all the same. Although you should stay away from any pickled food as a result, cucumbers in particular are very good at sucking up salt from the brine.
A single dill pickle spear can have up to 300 milligrams of sodium. Avoid these or look for low-sodium varieties.
8. Canned Soups
Salt is a significant ingredient in canned soups or broths, and depending on the brand and type you could be getting a massive 2,225 milligrams of sodium from the entire dish. Since canned soup is very affordable and easy to prepare, it can be hard to find a good substitute.
Fortunately low-sodium variants exist, but be sure to read the labels so you can be certain of what’s going into your body.
9. Tomato Products
Whether it’s in the form of tomato juice, pasta sauce, or a puree, almost any canned or bottled tomato product contains a lot of sodium. A cup of tomato juice, for example, contains 650 milligrams.
10. Chicken Skin
Chicken skin, especially if it’s from a packaged meat, may be tasty, but it’s also very high in saturated fats, trans fats, and hydrogenated oils that build up your LDL cholesterol level. High cholesterol, of course, is a big driver of high blood pressure and can worsen or potentially cause hypertension.
Whether you should abstain from coffee depends on how much you normally drink and how frequently. Coffee is capable of producing a spike in your blood pressure for a short period after drinking, but the effect wears off relatively quickly. In regular coffee drinkers, this effect is lessened or nonexistent as their bodies get used to the caffeine.
If you are not hypertensive and drink a cup or two each day like clockwork, you can likely continue to do so. If you are hypertensive or a caffeine junkie, cutting back or avoiding is advisable.
This is another mixed bag. Small to moderate amounts of alcohol either do not impact blood pressure or actually lower it, depending on the study consulted. You may have heard of this effect in the idea that a glass of red wine each day can lower your risk of heart disease.
Regardless of what possible effects low levels of alcohol may have, the effect of a large amount on blood pressure is much clearer: having more than three drinks in a single sitting will cause a temporary increase.
As an additional concern for anyone with hypertension, alcohol is capable with interfering with a number of drugs including blood pressure medications. If you take any medicine for your blood pressure then it’s best to remain the designated driver.
13. Chinese Food
Unless you make it yourself at home, stay away from Chinese dishes in restaurants or stores. Things like beef with broccoli or even some noodles may seem minor, but some Chinese food contains truly terrifying levels of salt.
Soy sauce or teriyaki can have around 1,000 milligrams of sodium in a single tablespoon and some Chinese dishes have over two days’ worth of salt in them.
14. Red Meat
Steaks and roasts can be succulent and rich, but are also very fatty and laden with cholesterol. When trying to keep blood pressure in mind, avoid all but the extra-lean cuts and even then keep those to a minimum.
Foods to Eat to Lower High Blood Pressure
Now that we’ve seen a list of foods that raise blood pressure, it’s time to look at foods that lower blood pressure. The DASH diet is a good model to use when looking for blood pressure–friendly eating options. While you take steps to minimize the presence of the above foods in your diet, try to increase or emphasize the following:
- Whole grains such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta;
- Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes (especially purple ones), green leafy vegetables, and tomatoes (non-canned);
- Apples, pears, peaches, mangoes, and bananas (you can have citrus, but be aware that it may interact with some hypertension medications);
- Lean poultry or fish;
- Skim milk and low-fat cheeses or yogurt; and
- Almonds, kidney beans, or lentils (nuts are high in calories but contain the good kind of cholesterol, so enjoy in moderation).
Lifestyle Changes to Avoid Raising Blood Pressure
Other than dietary changes, two of the best lifestyle choices you can make when worried about hypertension are to improve physical activity and take measures to reduce your weight. Staying active—at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week—helps keep your cardiovascular system strong and improves the flexibility and function of your arteries and blood vessels.
Losing weight also works to reduce the strain on your circulatory system, but only if you’re overweight. Fortunately, a blood pressure–friendly diet and some regular exercise can be a good way to shed some pounds.
Monitoring blood pressure levels is vital to maintain good overall health. The high levels of sodium and sugar content found in many of today’s popular food choices may cause pressure levels to rise to dangerous heights. Many market and restaurant food options have been loaded with sodium- or sugar-based preservatives to offer longer-lasting freshness. Caffeine present in coffee and energy drinks has also been known to raise blood pressure. The key is to read the labels in the store and to ask questions regarding meal preparation when dining out.
There are healthy alternatives to food without sacrificing taste. Try using pure herbs and spices for flavoring rather than table salt. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight may also help regulate blood pressure levels. You should also choose fresh, whole foods over processed and pre-packaged meals whenever possible. Be informed of what you are eating and how it can affect your blood pressure.
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