When it comes to “natural” ways to improve blood pressure, sodium restriction snags the spotlight. Most experts agree that limiting sodium is a smart strategy for those looking to lower blood pressure, but why focus on what you can’t — or shouldn’t — have? Shift your emphasis to positive lifestyle changes you can make to improve blood pressure.
Nosh on plenty of produce
Fruits and vegetables are low in sodium and rich in potassium, which offsets sodium’s effect on blood pressure. Potassium-packed picks include baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, spinach, winter squash, bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, beans and tomatoes.
Enhance meals with healthy fats
Substituting sources of healthy fats for some of the carbohydrates in your diet helps control blood pressure, according to a recent study. Remember to swap, and not add, them in. Think: nuts instead of croutons — not both — on your salad.
Go for whole grains over refined starches
Some studies suggest that whole grains help the body hang on to potassium. You can’t go wrong with whole grains either way — you get more beneficial vitamins and nutrients when you swap white for whole grains, and you’ll also feel full longer after eating them, thanks to their fiber content.
Include low-fat dairy in your diet
Calcium plays a key role in regulating blood pressure. Low-fat dairy products offer all the nutrients of full-fat varieties, but without the saturated fat and cholesterol that raise heart-disease risk. Have low-fat milk with your cereal or oatmeal in the morning, add a cup of plain low-fat yogurt to your lunch, or have some low-fat cheese as a mid-afternoon snack.
Learn to love legumes
Beans, nuts and seeds are rich in magnesium, which contributes to maintaining healthy blood pressure. Aim to get 4 to 5 servings (1/2 cup of beans or 1 ounce of nuts/seeds) a week.
Savor small amounts of dark chocolate
Studies attest to the blood-pressure benefits of products made with cocoa, which contains antioxidants that activate a substance called nitric oxide that relaxes blood vessels and makes it easier for blood to flow throughout your body.
Moderate exercise has been shown to improve blood pressure. National guidelines advise 30 minutes of daily moderate activity, such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling. If you don’t have 30 minutes to exercise, break your daily exercise sessions up into three 10-minute mini-workouts.
Cultivate inner calm
Studies show that meditation brings blood pressure down — probably by modulating physiological stress responses. You don’t have to sit in the lotus position, say “om” or think spiritual thoughts. Simply tuning in to your breathing — for even 10 minutes — may do the trick. Close your eyes (and the door), turn off the cell phone. Now … breathe.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)