Eating with High Blood Pressure: Food and Drinks to Avoid

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on February 8, 2018Written by Kimberly Holland on September 9, 2013

High blood pressure

Nearly a third of Americans have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another third have prehypertension, a condition in which blood pressure is higher than normal but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as hypertension.

If you have high blood pressure or prehypertension, studies have shown that you can lower your blood pressure by eating a healthy diet.

A healthy diet emphasizes:

Many foods and beverages can prevent you from lowering your blood pressure. Keep reading to learn about nine that you should limit or avoid.

Salt

salt

Salt and sodium are villains when it comes to living with high blood pressure and heart disease. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that people with hypertension or prehypertension limit their daily sodium intake to just 1,500 milligrams (mg). According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American eats about 3,400 mg a day, more than twice that amount.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, around 75 percent of the sodium you eat in a day comes from packaged foods, not what you add at the table with a saltshaker. Some of the saltiest packaged foods include:

  • deli meat
  • frozen pizza
  • vegetable juices
  • canned soup
  • canned or bottled tomato products

Deli meat

Deli Meats

Processed deli and lunch meats can be real sodium bombs. These meats are often cured, seasoned, and preserved with salt. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 2-ounce serving of some lunch meats could contain 500 mg of sodium or more. If you have a heavier hand with the cold cuts, you’ll get even more sodium. Add bread, cheese, condiments, and pickles, and your simple sandwich can quickly become a sodium trap.

Frozen pizza

All pizzas can be bad for people watching their sodium intake. The combination of cheese, cured meats, tomato sauce, and crust adds up to a lot of sodium. But frozen pizza is especially dangerous for people with hypertension.

To maintain flavor in the pizza once it’s been cooked, manufacturers often add a lot of salt. One serving of a frozen cheese or meat-and-cheese pizza can contain as much as 982 mg of sodium, sometimes even more. The thicker the crust and the more toppings you have, the higher your sodium number will climb.

Pickles

Preserving any food requires salt. This is because it stops the decay of the food and keeps it edible longer. However, salt can take even the most innocent cucumber and make it a sodium sponge.

The longer vegetables sit in canning and preserving liquids, the more sodium they can pick up. A whole dill pickle spear can contain as much as 362 mg of sodium. However, reduced-sodium options are available.

Canned soups

They’re simple and easy to prepare, especially when you’re crunched for time or not feeling well. However, canned soups are filled with sodium. Canned and packaged broths and stocks can be bad, too. Some soups can have almost 900 mg of sodium in just one serving, which is typically a 1/2 cup.

If you consume the entire can, you’ll be taking in 2,225 mg of sodium. Low-sodium and reduced-sodium options are available. But a better option is to keep the salt in check by making your own soup from a low-sodium recipe.

Canned or bottled tomato products

As a rule, tomato products are problematic for people with hypertension. Canned tomato sauces, pasta sauces, and tomato juices are all high in sodium. A 1/2-cup serving of classic marinara sauce can have more than 550 mg of sodium. A cup of tomato juice comes in at 615 mg.

You can often find low-sodium or reduced-sodium versions of all of these items. For people looking to keep their blood pressure down, these alternative options are a smart choice.

Sugar

You likely already know that excessive sugar intake has been linked to increased cases of weight gain and obesity. But did you know that high sugar intake is also linked to high blood pressure?

Sugar, especially sugar-sweetened drinks, has contributed to an increase in obesity in people of all ages. High blood pressure is more common in people who are overweight or obese. Currently, the USDA doesn’t have a recommended daily limit for sugars. But the American Heart Association recommends that women limit their added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons, or 24 grams, per day. Men should restrict themselves to 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams, per day.

Chicken skin and packaged foods

People with hypertension should reduce saturated fats and avoid trans fats. Items high in saturated fat include:

Trans fats are found naturally in small amounts of fatty meats and dairy products. However, the biggest contributor of trans fats is packaged and prepared foods, which also typically contain high amounts of sugar and other low-fiber carbohydrates.

Trans fats are created in a process called hydrogenation, where liquid oils are infused with air to make a solid oil. Hydrogenated oils increase packaged foods’ shelf life and stability. Research shows that heart health worsens when fats are substituted for processed carbohydrates and sugar.

Consuming too many saturated and trans fats increases your LDL, or bad cholesterol. High LDL levels may make your hypertension worse, and may eventually lead to the development of coronary heart disease. To moderate these risks, don’t increase your sugar intake. Also replace animal, saturated, and trans fats with plant fats, such as:

Alcohol

Small to moderate amounts of alcohol may lower your blood pressure, but drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. Drinking too much can also increase your risk for many cancers, even for people who only drink occasionally.

According to the Mayo Clinic, having more than three drinks in one sitting can cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. Repeated drinking can lead to long-term blood pressure problems.

Alcohol can also prevent any blood pressure medications you may be taking from working effectively. In addition, alcohol is full of calories, must be metabolized by the liver, and can lead to weight gain. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have high blood pressure.

If you drink too often or need help cutting back, speak with your healthcare provider.

Smart eating strategies

If you’ve received a diagnosis with hypertension or prehypertension, a few smart eating strategies can help you prevent blood pressure spikes and possibly even reduce your blood pressure. Making a few easy swaps — such as looking for reduced-sodium, no sodium, or trans-fat free options — can help you cut back on what you don’t need and instead find better options.

Fill up your plate with at least 50 percent vegetables and fruits. For very few calories, they provide potassium — which offsets the effects of sodium — fiber, antioxidants, and a plethora of other nutrients.

It’s important to remember that eating with hypertension isn’t about deprivation. It’s about eating smart and healthy for your body. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been shown to be effective in reducing and managing hypertension. This therapeutic diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables with every meal, and also includes high-fiber foods such as nuts, beans, and whole grains.

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