Blood pressure, refers to the pressure of blood against our artery walls. Over time, high blood pressure, or hypertension, may cause blood vessel damage that leads to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and other serious health conditions. High blood pressure is prevalent in Hong Kong; The Population Health Survey 2014 -15 from the Hong Kong Department of Health revealed that around 27% of the population aged 15 or above has elevated blood pressure. The prevalence also increased as we age, with 4.5% among those aged 15 to 24 and up to 64.8% for those aged 65 to 84!
There are various factors that determine high blood pressure: age, gender, family history, race, activity levels, and the quality of the diet. As adopting a healthy lifestyle has been shown to lower blood pressure, most of us can make an effort to change our diet once we have been diagnosed. Aside from cutting salt intake and eating fewer high-sodium packaged foods, you can also include more of the following foods to help manage your blood pressure
1. Green-Coloured Vegetables
We all know that eating more vegetable is good for us. It turns out, they are not just simply “good”, but they may be able to help us lower blood pressure as well. As we often focus on lowering sodium intake when it comes to managing blood pressure, we shouldn’t neglect the other side of the equation: potassium. Potassium is the mineral that can counteract the damaging effects of sodium, hence it is important to incorporate more potassium-rich foods into our diet. The recommended daily intake of potassium from most health organizations is between 2,000 to 4,600 mg, and fruits and vegetables are the key sources for potassium. In particular, among the 5 color groups of fruits and vegetables, the green-coloured family collectively provides an excellent source.
● Beet Greens (½ cup, cooked) 655 mg
● Edamame (½ cup, cooked) 485 mg
● Avocado (½ piece) 419 mg
● Spinach (½ cup, cooked) 419 mg
● Bok Choy (½ cup, cooked) 315 mg
● Brussels sprouts (½ cup, cooked) 247 mg
● Broccoli (½ cup, cooked) 229 mg
● Kiwi (1 piece) 215 mg
Other high-potassium foods include bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and more.
Caution: People with kidney disease may have a different requirement for potassium intake. Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.
In addition to potassium, many green leafy vegetables are also rich in nitrates, which may help to lower blood pressure as well. A UK study published in 2015 found that healthy woman eating just a week of high-nitrate vegetables saw a drop of 4 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure. That’s remarkable in just one week
Colourful berries contain antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins. You may have heard about this antioxidant being helpful for eye health, indeed there is more to it. A long-term study of 14 years in the United States involving 34,000 people with hypertension found that those with a high intake of anthocyanins saw an 8% reduction in risk of developing hypertension. Fresh berries are in season now, so enjoy them more often
Oats are often associated with blood cholesterol and blood sugar. You may be surprised to hear that they are also a great food to help manage blood pressure. A type of fiber called beta-glucan in oats has been shown to lower blood pressure. A 2007 study reported that eating oats daily for 12 weeks resulted in a drop of systolic pressure by 8.3 mm Hg, as well as a drop in diastolic pressure by 3.9 mmHg in people who are obese. More recent evidence from a review of 28 clinical trials also concluded that regular intake of beta-glucan fibre may also lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure
4. Dark Chocolate
Over the years, many reports revealed that dark chocolate may help to lower blood pressure. However some of these studies were small and not well designed to draw any concrete conclusions. So in 2010, a group of Australian scientists reviewed 15 properly designed trials where people ate chocolate everyday for at least 2 weeks. One of these studies actually lasted for 18 weeks. Regardless of duration, researchers concluded that cocoa-rich dark chocolate could help lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. Generally in chocolate, the higher the cocoa content usually means the lower its sugar content. So choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content more often. High quality chocolate products are usually made with natural cocoa ingredients without food additives. Try keeping your daily chocolate intake at no more than 30g (about 1 ounce)
5. Flax Seed
Nuts and seeds are a good option to add to the diet as a measure to manage blood pressure. Among these crunchy seeds, flax seeds seem to have demonstrated an amazing result so far. In a 2013 Canadian study, participants ate 30 grams of ground flax seeds every day for 6 months. After 6 months, the flax group was able to lower their systolic pressure by 10 mm Hg and their diastolic pressure by 7mm Hg.
As flax seeds are better absorbed grounded, purchase ground flax seeds. Alternately, you may also grind whole seeds yourself with a food processor or coffee bean grinder.
Gloria Tsang - Registered Dietitian