What causes high blood pressure?
Salt, mainly. If you aren’t aware that excessive salt intake leads to high blood pressure, then you have been living under a rock. Salt is an essential mineral; however, that does not mean that we need to add it to foods, as we have been doing since discovering that it could preserve food. Now that we have refrigerators for that purpose, we no longer have to drench our foods in salt just to avoid starvation, yet we continue to reach for that salt shaker.
I was taught in many physiology classes throughout high school and college that a normal blood pressure is 120/80 and may slightly increase with age. Yet, that “normal” was established because it was average of people in the US at the time. When researchers looked at the blood pressure levels of the Yanomamo Indians in the Amazon Rainforest, a culture that is isolated from the modern world and therefore does not consume any table salt, they found that their average blood pressures were about 100/60 and did not change with age 1.This suggests that a diet without salt, which should be considered “normal” because it is what our bodies have adapted to, will lead to a truly normal blood pressure that is much lower than the average that we see in the modern world.
So, if you stop eating salt will your blood pressure decrease? Yup! But, with other factors taken into consideration (mainly a plant-based diet). In the 1940s, Dr. Walter Kempner took a group of people with insanely high blood pressure of up to 210/140 and placed them on a plant-based rice and fruit diet with no added salt. At the end of the study, the subjects’ blood pressure dropped dramatically to as low as 80/602!
Removing salt from the diet will significantly improve blood pressure levels. However, for some individuals, more intervention is needed. I am one of those people and I am guessing there is a genetic predisposition to being cursed with high blood pressure. I rarely add salt to foods and my blood pressure hovers around 125/85. It is an improvement from my pre-vegan days, for sure, but it is not the 110/70 that I have learned is a healthy blood pressure level.
So, how do you lower blood pressure naturally?
With food! The following foods and drinks have worked for me to lower my blood pressure to the ideal level. When I skip these foods for a few weeks, it creeps back up, especially when I am stressed. Do your best to use these foods as medicine to lower your blood pressure naturally, without medication.
Blood pressure drugs have many side-effects, including coughing, loss of taste, insomnia, skin rashes, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, impotence…the list goes on. If only there was a plant that lowered blood pressure just as much as the drug, but without those nasty side-effects. Oh wait, there is! Hibiscus tea has been shown to lower blood pressure just as effectively as the hypertension drug, Captopril4.
I brew a cup of hibiscus tea when I wake up and another in the evening. If you are going to add hibiscus tea to your diet, make sure to rinse your mouth with a bit of water after the tea cup is empty. Hibiscus is acidic and, just like any other acidic fruits and vegetables, it can lead to enamel erosion if the acid remains on the teeth.
You can drink it hot or iced. It has a flavor similar to cranberry juice and it is delicious.
3-4 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds a day has been shown to be the most potent food studied in terms of its ability to lower blood pressure 5. Make sure you consume ground flax instead of whole seeds. The seed coat is difficult for humans to digest and you will end up flushing your money down the drain, literally. As an added benefit, flax seeds have a perfect ratio of omega fatty acids.
I add ground flax to any smoothie or baked good that I make. You can also add it to salad dressings, sprinkle it on a baked sweet potato or squash, or stir it into any soup or stew.
You think bananas have a lot of potassium? Not really, when you compare them to root vegetables like potatoes. According to the USDA Food Composition Database, a large banana (136 grams) has about 487 mg of potassium. Sounds like quite a bit, but a small baked russet potato (138 grams) has 759 mg of potassium. When I eat potatoes, I eat about 500 grams which comes to 2,750 mg of potassium. Sweet potatoes are an even smarter choice because they have similar levels of potassium, with extra antioxidants.
Why is potassium important for blood pressure?
Our bodies need it to carry out a variety of functions, yet less than 2% of Americans are getting the recommended minimum of 4,700 mg per day 6. In the kidneys, potassium works with sodium (which is needed in much lower quantities), to pump out excess fluid in the body to be excreted in urine. Without enough potassium, fluid is not pumped out efficiently and remains in the blood stream; thus increasing blood pressure.
Potassium is concentrated in large amounts in plants, which get it from the soil. People are not reaching adequate potassium levels because they are not eating enough plants. Which plants have the highest potassium levels? Tuber and squashes! Which leads us to our next food:
Acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, and zucchini to name a few. All have valuable amounts of potassium, although not quite as much as potatoes. They are all very healthy with a bunch of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and even some protein. So why not add them to your diet?
My favorite way to enjoy squash is steamed and on salad or rolled up in vegan sushi. Mmmm.
Roots and Tubers.
Get back to your roots by eating more of them. Yes, I already mentioned potatoes, so this is for all the other underground veggies out there including beets, turnips, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, cassava, yams, daikon, kohlrabi, yucca, and radishes. If you have never heard of some of them, Google it and go try it out. Experimenting with new vegetables is always fun, even if you fail.
Roots and tubers are beneficial for blood pressure because of the potassium content, but for other reasons as well. They have a low calorie density, which leads you to eat less calories with the same volume of food as you typically eat. Therefore, you can lose weight without feeling hungry. High blood pressure can be difficult to solve if you are still not at a healthy weight.
More Tips to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally
Now that we have established some blood pressure-lowering foods, here are a couple more tips to lower blood pressure without medication:
- Exercise 30-60 minutes a day. If you don’t have time, make time. Even if it is just 15 minutes in the morning and 15 at night, that will add up to 30 minutes a day. Find something that suits you and be consistent, but don’t be afraid to mix it up to avoid getting bored.
2. Remain calm.Take the time to just relax and do nothing. Spend time with a pet, family, or just stare out the window with a cup of tea.
3. Avoid alcohol as often as possible.
I hope this information helps those of you trying to lower your blood pressure naturally. Best of luck to you!
- Mancilha-Carvalho, Jairo de Jesus, & Silva, Nelson Albuquerque de Souza e. (2003). The Yanomami Indians in the INTERSALT study. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, 80(3), 295-300. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0066-782X2003000300005
- Kempner, W. (1949). Treatment of heart and kidney disease and of hypertensive and arteriosclerotic vascular disease with the Rice Diet. Ann Intern Med, 31:821-856. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-31-5-821
- Donaldson, A. N. (1926). The relation of protein foods to hypertension. California and Western Medicine, 24(3), 328–331.
- Herrera-Arellano, A., Flores-Romero, S., Chávez-Soto A.M., Tortoriello, J. (2004). Effectiveness and tolerability of a standardized extract from Hibiscus sabdariffain patients with mild to moderate hypertension: a controlled and randomized clinical trial.Phytomedicine, 11(5), 375-382. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0944711304000029
- Rodriguez-Leyva, D., Weighell, W., Edel, A.L., LaVallee, R., Dibrov, E., Pinneker, R., Maddaford, T.G., Ramjiawan, B., Aliani, M., Guzman, R., Pierce, G.N., (2013). Potent Antihypertensive Action of Dietary Flaxseed in Hypertensive Patients. Hypertension, 62:1081-1089. https://doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.113.02094
- Cogswell, M.E., Zhang, Z., Carriquiry, A.L., Gunn, J.P., Kuklina, E.V., Saydah, S.H., Yang, Q., Moshfegh, A.J., (2012). Sodium and potassium intakes among US adults: NHANES 2003–2008. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,96(3), 647-657. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.034413