Among the many lifestyle changes you can make to prevent or treat high blood pressure, improving your diet is proven to help you control your blood pressure, lose weight, and decrease your chance of heart disease and stroke.
You can get a referral from your doctor to a dietitian, who can help you plan a diet that is healthy for you.
Eat foods that are naturally low in fat. These include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Keep them low in fat. Using low-fat toppings, sauces, and dressings will help.
Look at food labels. Pay special attention to the level of saturated fat.
Avoid or limit foods that are high in saturated fat (more than 20% of the total fat). Eating too much saturated fat is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.
Choose lean protein foods -- soy, fish, skinless chicken, very lean meat, and fat-free or 1% dairy products.
Look for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on food labels. Do NOT eat foods with these ingredients. They are loaded with saturated fats and trans fats.
Limit how much fried and processed foods you eat. Limit how many commercially prepared baked goods (such as donuts, cookies, and crackers) you eat. They may contain a lot of saturated fats or trans fats.
Eat fewer products that are high in saturated fats. Some of these are egg yolks, hard cheeses, whole milk, cream, ice cream, butter, and fatty meats (and large portions of meats).
Pay attention to how foods are prepared. Healthy ways to cook fish, chicken, and lean meats are broiling, grilling, poaching, and baking.
Other tips include:
Eat foods that are high in soluble fiber. These include oats, bran, split peas and lentils, beans (such as kidney, black, and navy beans), some cereals, and brown rice.
Learn how to shop for and cook foods that are healthy for your heart. Learn how to read food labels to choose healthy foods. Stay away from fast food restaurants, where healthy choices can be hard to find.
The low-salt Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is proven to help lower blood pressure. Its effects on blood pressure are sometimes seen within a few weeks.
This diet is not only rich in important nutrients and fiber, but it also includes foods that contain far more potassium (4,700 milligrams (mg)/day), calcium (1,250 mg/day), and magnesium (500 mg/day) and much less sodium (salt) than the typical American diet.
Limit sodium to no more than 2,300 mg a day (eating only 1,500 mg a day is an even better goal).
Reduce saturated fat to no more than 6% of daily calories and total fat to 27% of daily calories. Low-fat dairy products appear to be especially beneficial for lowering systolic blood pressure.
When choosing fats, select monounsaturated oils, such as olive or canola oils.
Choose whole grains over white flour or pasta products.
Choose fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Many of these foods are rich in potassium, fiber, or both.
Eat nuts, seeds, or legumes (dried beans or peas) daily.
Choose modest amounts of protein (no more than 18% of total daily calories). Fish, skinless poultry, and soy products are the best protein sources.
Other daily nutrient goals in the DASH diet include limiting carbohydrates to 55% of daily calories and dietary cholesterol to 150 mg. Try to get at least 30 grams (g) of daily fiber.
Before you increase the potassium in your diet or use salt substitutes (which often contain potassium), check with your doctor. People who have kidney problems or who take certain medicines must be careful about how much potassium they consume.
Goldstein LB, Bushnell CD, Adams RJ, Appel LJ, Braun LT, Chaturvedi S, et al. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.Stroke. 2011;42:517-84.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.