Bananas are a rich source of potassium which is vital for regulating blood pressure. Potassium is needed for the balance of body fluids; a proper balance of sodium in the body depends on potassium. High blood pressure is linked to high intakes of salt (sodium) in the diet. Therefore, excessive intakes of sodium (over 6g per day) require extra potassium to counterbalance the negative effect on blood pressure. It is worth noting that excessive intakes of alcohol and caffeine can increase the amount of potassium lost by the body. A diet high in potassium from fruits, vegetables, and legumes is generally recommended for optimum heart health. One banana provides 400mg of potassium which is 11% of the recommended daily amount.
Berries contain chemicals known as anthocyanidins which are responsible for giving fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants their unique colours. Anthocyanidins also have antioxidant properties and their free radical scavenging capabilities are thought to be more potent than many of the currently well-known vitamin antioxidants. Much of the research on anthocyanidins has focused on their ability to protect collagen, which provides the structure to blood capillaries, from the destructive effects of free radical damage. The ability of anthocyanidins to reduce the fragility and permeability of these small blood vessels means that anthocyanidins are thought to be able to reduce blood pressure as well as conditions such as varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
A large study called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) found that eating a certain way could lower blood pressure as much as taking blood pressure-lowering medicine. Research has shown that the greatest reductions in blood pressure are observed with a diet that is low in salt, low in total fat and saturated fat, but rich in fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. The DASH diet was able to reduce blood pressure by 5.5/3.0mmHg. Low fat dairy foods such as milk, yoghurts, fromage frais and reduced fat cheese provide plenty of calcium which works with potassium to help lower blood pressure. Mozzarella is one of the naturally lower salt, lower fat cheeses and half fat versions are also available.
Along with potassium and calcium, the third mineral needed to promote normal blood pressure is magnesium. Sunflower seeds are an impressive source of magnesium as well as providing plenty of other minerals including iron, selenium, calcium and zinc. They are also an excellent source of vitamin E and B vitamins and they provide some fibre and protein too. Additionally, they are rich in cholesterol-lowering substances called phytosterols. A handful of sunflower seeds makes a great snack between meals, as they satisfy hunger without disrupting blood sugar levels. Try them sprinkled on salads or mixed with berries and low fat yoghurt for breakfast.
Last year a team of German scientists showed that a little dark chocolate could help people with slightly high blood pressure to achieve small reductions. This is thought to be due to the action of chemical substances in cocoa called flavanols. But one concern is that the benefits of lowering blood pressure by the flavanols could be offset by the high sugar, fat and calories of chocolate. Patients were given one little square of a dark chocolate bar everyday and the researchers found that dark chocolate reduced average blood pressure without changes in body weight and blood levels of fats or sugars.
Herbs and spices
Following the DASH trial, the DASH Sodium trial examined the combined effect of the DASH diet and reduced salt intake. The greatest reductions in blood pressure were achieved with the DASH diet and a low salt intake of 3g per day. Current intakes of salt average 9g per day and advice for reducing salt includes avoiding too much processed food and reducing the use of salt in cooking and at the table. Cutting salt out of home cooked foods can be difficult for those with a salty palate but experimenting with different herbs and spices to flavour food can help. Maintaining a healthy weight, not consuming too much alcohol, and regular physical activity will also help to prevent and reduce high blood pressure.
Brie and fig salad
Brie is one of the lower salt cheeses and combined with figs (potassium), baby spinach (magnesium) and pine nuts (calcium) provides all the nutrients needed to help lower blood pressure.
1) 100g goat’s cheese
2) Large bag of baby spinach leaves
3) 4 figs
4) 2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts
5) 2 tsp. vegetable oil
6) 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Cut the cheese into small cubes and quarter the figs, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.