High Blood Pressure: Nutrition Tips
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet can help you lower your blood pressure. It includes eating fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or non-fat dairy foods. For more information on the DASH diet, see:
The food groups and serving sizes in the table below are based on the DASH diet from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. These servings may not match Canada's Food Guide.
Follow these daily recommendations:
Low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products
2 to 3 servings a day
A serving is 1 cup (250 mL) of milk, 1 cup (250 mL) of yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces (45 g) of cheese.
4 to 5 servings a day
A serving is 1 medium-sized piece of fruit, 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped or canned fruit, 1/4 cup (60 mL) dried fruit, or 1/2 cup (125 mL) of fruit juice. Choose fruit more often than fruit juice.
4 to 5 servings a day
A serving is 1 cup (250 mL) of lettuce or raw leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup (125 mL) of chopped or cooked vegetables, or 1/2 cup (125 mL) of vegetable juice. Choose vegetables more often than vegetable juice.
6 to 8 servings a day
A serving is 1 slice of bread, 1 ounce of dry cereal, or 1/2 cup (125 mL) of cooked rice, pasta, or cooked cereal. Try to choose whole-grain products as much as possible.
Meat, poultry, fish
No more than 2 servings a day
A serving is 3 ounces (90 g), about the size of a deck of cards
Legumes, nuts, seeds
4 to 5 servings a week
A serving is 1/3 cup (75 mL) of nuts, 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of seeds, or 1/2 cup (125 mL) cooked beans or peas.
Fats and oils
2 to 3 servings a day
A serving is 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of soft margarine or vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of low-fat salad dressing.
Sweets and added sugars
5 servings a week or less
A serving is 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of jelly or jam, 1/2 cup (125 mL) of sorbet, or 1 cup (250 mL) of lemonade.
Cut down on fats
Eating a diet low in both saturated fat and total fat will help lower your blood pressure.
Although you need some fat in your diet, limit how much saturated fat you eat. These fats are mostly in animal foods, such as meat and dairy foods. Coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter are also saturated fats. Palm and coconut oils are often found in processed foods, including crackers and snack foods.
Follow the recommendations below to include healthy fats in your diet. DASH recommends that a little less than a third of your total calories come from fats. And most of these calories should come from healthy fats such as vegetable oils, nuts, and fish. Very few calories should come from saturated fat, which is found in animal meat, dairy products, and processed foods.
Cut back on sodium
There is a link between eating sodium and having high blood pressure. Reducing sodium in the diet can prevent high blood pressure in those at risk for the disease and can help control high blood pressure. Limiting sodium is part of a heart-healthy eating plan that can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
Most people shouldn't eat more than 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day.footnote 1
Eat fewer processed foods
Cutting back on the amount of processed or refined foods you eat can help. These foods, such as canned and instant soups, packaged mixes, and snack items, don't have enough calcium, potassium, and magnesium-the very nutrients you need to help lower your blood pressure. And these foods can be high in sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats.
You also may try a vegetarian diet. In general, vegetarian diets reduce blood pressure, although experts don't know exactly why. The DASH diet could easily be a vegetarian diet if legumes (for example, beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts) were substituted for meat. Vegetarian diets tend to be higher in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as does the DASH diet. Vegetarian diets also are higher in fibre and unsaturated fats than other diets.
Potassium, calcium, and magnesium
To get enough of these nutrients, eat a balanced diet that contains plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and whole grains. Most people do not need to take dietary supplements to get enough potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Good sources of potassium
All fresh fruits and vegetables and meats are good sources of potassium. Examples include the following:
- Bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, and orange juice
- Raw or cooked spinach, lima beans, zucchini, broccoli, and artichokes
- Legumes (cooked dried beans and peas) such as pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
Good sources of calcium
- Low-fat dairy products (yogurt, skim milk, cheese)
Good sources of magnesium
- Legumes (cooked dried beans and peas), seeds, and nuts
- Milk and yogurt
- Brown rice and potatoes
- Bananas and watermelon
- Leafy green vegetables
The safest way to ensure good nutrition is through a balanced, varied diet instead of through nutritional supplements.
Very large amounts of any of these minerals taken in the form of a supplement can cause problems, including possible death. See your doctor before taking large quantities of any supplement.
What does not lower blood pressure?
Garlic and onions
Although eating garlic and onions has been recommended to reduce blood pressure, evidence shows that only very small decreases in blood pressure may result.
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- Health Canada (2009, updated 2012). It's your health: Sodium. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/food-aliment/sodium-eng.php.
Other Works Consulted
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2006). Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH (NIH Publication No. 06-4082). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colleen O'Connor, PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
Kathleen M. Fairfield, MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine
Current as ofApril 27, 2017
Current as of: April 27, 2017
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Colleen O'Connor, PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian & Kathleen M. Fairfield, MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine
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