We’ll start with basic Q & As about high blood pressure (hypertension).
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is part of our body’s natural, normal functions. It is the force of blood pushing against our artery walls. But when blood pressure remains high, it can lead to serious health problems.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the #1 risk factor for the approximately 800,000 strokes Americans suffer each year.
Hypertension is also responsible for about half of all deaths from heart disease.
How many Americans have hypertension?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in every 3 adults has hypertension. Another 1 in 3 has pre-hypertension.1
What numbers constitute normal blood pressure? High blood pressure?
|Blood Pressure Ranges|
|Normal Blood Pressure||Systolic (top number): less than 120|
|Diastolic (bottom number): less than 80|
|At Risk (Pre-hypertension)||Systolic: 120–139|
|High Blood Pressure||Systolic: 140 or higher|
|Diastolic: 90 or higher|
Lowering Blood Pressure Naturally – 7 Tips
Numerous studies over the past three decades have found that hypertension can largely be prevented and/or reversed simply by changing our diet and lifestyle.
For example, the Pritikin Program of diet, exercise, and lifestyle-change has been documented in peer-reviewed research to greatly improve blood pressure numbers.
What’s more, studies have found that within two to three weeks, many people leave the Pritikin Longevity Center, where they learned healthy food and fitness habits, no longer needing their medications for hypertension, or with their dosages greatly reduced.
Below are 7 key diet/lifestyle tips recommended by the physicians, registered dietitians, exercise physiologists, and other faculty at Pritikin Longevity Center.
A vegetable- and fruit-rich eating plan helps ensure that you’re eating plenty of foods full of stomach-filling volume, yet low in calories, enhancing your weight-loss efforts. Losing excess weight is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure.
Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables also means you’re eating rich sources of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Many studies have found that foods plentiful in these minerals help blunt some of the toxic effects of sodium.
Calorie-dense foods tend to be foods loaded with fat, sugar, and/or refined grains. Eating significantly less of these foods every day will boost your weight-loss efforts.
Keep in mind that keeping track of the calorie density of the foods you eat is different from counting calories.
Calorie density is the number of calories in a given volume of food. Certain foods have more calories packed into them – bite for bite, or pound for pound – than others. Fresh tomatoes, for example, have 90 calories per pound. Bagels have about 1,300 calories per pound. Yes, that means that with each bite of bagel, you’re taking in 14 times as many calories as each bite of tomato.
Knowing a food’s calorie density is vital because when we sit down to eat, we pretty much eat (or want to eat) based on volume. We want to fill up our stomachs, curb hunger, and feel satisfied. Well, as you can see from the tomato vs bagel calorie density numbers, satisfying our hunger on bagels is going to ratchet up a lot more calories than satisfying our hunger with vegetables like tomatoes.
Curbing hunger is vital for long-term weight-control success. No diet that leaves us feeling chronically hungry (which is what most calorie-counting diets do) will last for long. By contrast, paying attention to the calorie densities of the foods we eat allows us to fill up with hefty amounts of food, but not hefty amounts of calories.
The “Calories Per Pound” chart below gives you a sense of how widely varying the calorie density of different foods can be.
As a general rule, stick to the green categories (Vegetables to Lean Protein) which are essentially the Pritikin Eating Plan. By doing so, you’ll:
- You’ll naturally take in fewer calories.
- You’ll enjoy satisfying amounts of food throughout the day.
- You’ll never again feel, “I’m always hungry.”
- The foods you’re eating will be healthy and nutrition-rich – the best foods not only for losing excess weight but also for preventing or controlling hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and many other health concerns.
Nonfat Dairy Foods
Other Fiber- and Water-Rich Foods | Such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cooked-in-water whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain pasta
Lean Sources of Protein | Such as fish, skinless white poultry, lean game meat like bison, egg whites, and legumes (beans) like pintos, garbanzos, and lentils
Fatty Sources of Protein | For example, beef, dark poultry with skin, and full-fat dairy foods like cheese
Refined, Dry Carbohydrates | Like breads, cold cereals, pretzels, crackers, baked chips, and dried fruit
Junk Food | Like candy bars, cookies, croissants, donuts, and potato chips
Oils/Fats | Such as bacon grease, lard, shortening, olive oil and all other oils
The physicians and other faculty at Pritikin agree with sodium guidelines established by the Institute of Medicine’s Expert Panel.2 IOM advises that adult Americans limit their consumption of sodium to 1,200 to 1,500 mg a day, depending on age:
- People aged 19 to 49 should consume 1,500 mg or less of sodium a day.
- People 50 to 69 should consume 1,300 mg or less.
- Those 70 and older should consume 1,200 mg or less.
Limiting salt intake really works, especially for those most in need. Many studies have shown that the higher blood pressure is and the more salt is restricted, the greater the fall in blood pressure.
Meal Plan For Blood Pressure and Weight Loss
Berry Balsamic Bliss Over Seared Salmon is just one dish on the Super-Simple Meal Plan For Lowering Blood Pressure
Keep in mind that most of the salt (sodium chloride) we eat comes not from the salt shaker on our dining room table but from restaurant and processed foods like canned soups, snack foods, and frozen meals.
So do read food labels. A good rule of thumb that the nutritionists at the Pritikin Longevity Center use is: Keep sodium count as low as (or lower than) calories. For example: If the calories per serving on the Nutrition Facts Label are 100, do your best to keep milligrams of sodium per serving at 100 or below.
Excess alcohol drinking (more than 3 drinks daily) has been shown to increase the risk of hypertension.
Daily physical activity promotes loss of excess weight, vital for controlling blood pressure. It also stimulates the body’s production of beneficial chemicals like nitric oxide that expand blood vessels and increase blood flow.
The Pritikin Exercise Plan taught at the Pritikin Longevity Center is safe, comprehensive, and evidence based, and involves three key parts:
- Aerobic exercise daily, a minimum of 30 minutes and optimally 60 to 90 minutes, alternating moderate-intensity days with vigorous-intensity days
- Full-body resistance routine two to three times weekly; and
- Stretching exercises daily to greatly enhance overall flexibility and ability to exercise more freely.
Studies suggest that adequate amounts of all the above may help with blood pressure control.
- For calcium, the most effective and safest source is food, not supplements. The Pritikin Eating Plan is a rich source of calcium, adding up to about 800 to 1,000 mg daily. True, this amount is slightly less than the current RDA of 1,000 to 1,200 mg for older Americans, but our RDA is high because our typical American diet is high in calcium leachers like salt, meat, and refined carbs. With Pritikin foods, you’re losing less calcium, which means you likely need less.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Like calcium, food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are preferable to supplements. While there is no RDA for omega-3s, a reasonable goal is an average of 1 to 2 grams daily, which is easily met with the Pritikin Eating Plan. Foods rich in omega-3s include cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, trout, herring, and sardines, as well as walnuts, flaxseeds, beans (especially soybeans), and dark green leafy vegetables. Limit nuts and seeds to 1 ounce a day or less because they’re dense with calories – about 2,600 per pound. If you’re trying to lose weight, you probably want to steer clear of them completely.
- Vitamin D: Adequate blood levels of vitamin D are 30 to 50 ng/mL. It is a good idea to have your blood levels tested. To help raise levels, enjoy a little sunshine if your dermatologist allows. Supplementation, under your physician’s care, may also be necessary.
Many smokers have become nonsmokers while at the Pritikin Longevity Center by taking advantage of the personalized behavioral counseling in Pritikin’s Stop Smoking Program.
Get everything you need in The Ultimate Guide for Lowering Blood Pressure Naturally
Get answers to Common Questions About High Blood Pressure
Most people with hypertension can effectively control their blood pressure without the need for medications by following the Pritikin Program. Those who still need pills usually require lower dosages and/or fewer drugs, thereby reducing their risk of suffering adverse side effects from the drugs.
Recipes For Lowering Blood Pressure
For many of us, the trick for lowering blood pressure naturally is finding recipes that don’t contain crazy amounts of sodium.
What’s often really shocking is the amount of sodium in convenience foods like canned soups. As mentioned earlier, most of us are supposed to be consuming no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. But guess how much sodium is in one typical can of Campbell’s soup? About 1,200 to 1,700 milligrams.
So with just one can of Campbell’s soup, we’re often using up our total daily allotment for sodium. Mmm mmm good? Not even close if we want good arteries, good blood pressure, and good health.
Lowering Blood Pressure Naturally
For four decades, the Pritikin Program has offered a safe, effective, and scientifically-documented3 alternative to pharmacological therapy because the program eliminates the dietary insults and other lifestyle-related factors that cause hypertension to develop in the first place.
- 1 CDC. Vital signs: awareness and treatment of uncontrolled hypertension among adults—United States, 2003–2010. MMWR. 2012;61(35): 703.
- 2 National Research Council. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005.
- 3 Journal of the CardioMetabolic Syndrome, 2006; 1: 308. Metabolism Clinical and Experimental, 2006; 55: 871. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2005; 98:3.