If you have high blood pressure, here’s some food for thought: What you eat can make it easier—or harder—to keep your blood pressure under control.
Like what, you may ask? Here are five surprising foods that can push blood pressure in the wrong direction—and some tips to help you dish up heart-healthy fare instead.
5 bad-news foods for blood pressure
1. – Grapefruit juice. Grapefruit contains compounds that may interfere with how your body absorbs some drugs, including some blood pressure medicines. It can leave too much or too little of the drug in your bloodstream, which may be dangerous. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist if grapefruit could affect the medicine you’re taking.
What to try instead: Sip on other 100 percent fruit juices. Or, even better, go for sugar-free drinks like water with a twist of lemon.
2. – Black licorice. Licorice root contains a compound that, in large amounts, can lower potassium levels. Low potassium may cause blood pressure to skyrocket. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that if you’re 40 or older, eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks or longer could be dangerous.
What to try instead: Many licorice-flavored products sold in the U.S. don’t contain real licorice root. Look for low-sugar items flavored with anise oil instead.
3. Processed meats. Too much sodium in your diet can make blood pressure climb. Just one 2-ounce serving of deli meat can contain as much as half of the recommended sodium in your daily diet. Sodium hides in other common processed foods too, like bread, pizza and canned soup. So make it a habit to read nutrition labels and choose foods labeled low sodium, reduced sodium or no salt added.
What to try instead: Opt for fresh meats instead of preserved ones. And try more meatless sandwich fillers like fresh veggies and low-sodium beans.
4. – Sugary drinks. Sweetened beverages—like soft drinks—are a major source of added sugar. All that sugar adds empty calories that may lead to weight gain. And those extra pounds can make it harder to keep blood pressure in a healthy range.
What to try instead: Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruits. They have natural sugars and nutrients your body needs, including blood pressure-friendly potassium.
5. – Baked goods. Many baked goods—like cookies, crackers and doughnuts—are loaded with saturated and trans fats. These unhealthy fats can contribute to high blood pressure. So it’s important to choose low-fat alternatives and avoid foods that say hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on the label.
What to try instead: Try your hand at making your own baked goods at home, where you can control what goes in. In most recipes, you can trade some of the high-fat butter for a heart-healthy oil, like canola.
What is the DASH diet?
Of course, heart-healthy eating isn’t just about avoiding these five foods—or any others. For better blood pressure control, it’s important to think about your eating habits as a whole.
One of the best overall diets for bringing blood pressure down is called the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). It contains less sodium, added sugar and saturated fat than the typical American diet. And it’s high in nutrients and fiber.
To start doing things the DASH way, try to:
- Build your diet around fruits, veggies and whole grains.
- Switch to low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
- Choose lean proteins—such as fish, poultry and beans—and limit red meats.
- Opt for healthy fats, such as olive or canola oil.
- Enjoy unsalted nuts, seeds and legumes.
- Check food labels for saturated fat, trans fats, sodium and sugar—and choose the foods with the lowest amounts.
Your doctor can tell you if the DASH diet is right for you—and give you tips on other heart-healthy ways to control your blood pressure.
Hidden signs of heart trouble
Heart problems like high blood pressure often have no symptoms—or symptoms that may surprise you. Check out these unexpected warning signs that your heart may need some help.