Lower High Blood Pressure with These Snacks
Wait-and-see wisdom isn't heart smart at any age, according to two new reports we think should be must-reads in every doctor's office and at every kitchen table. Here's why:
If you ignore early blood pressure increases, you ignore heart damage. The first new study explains how blood pressure "creep-up" in your 30s, 40s, or 50s enlarges your heart, even if you're otherwise healthy. This finding got a lot of attention recently at an international health meeting because so many docs still choose to "watch" rising blood pressure in middle-aged people whose overall risk for heart trouble looks low. You shouldn't do that -- and neither should your doc! (Learn how managing hypertension also helps prevent dementia.)
If you keep your blood pressure numbers healthy during middle age, you slash your risk for big trouble later on. The second study shows that high blood pressure at age 55 puts a guy's lifetime risk for a "heart event" at 70%, and a woman's risk at 50%. For both men and women, healthy blood pressure levels between the ages of 40 and 50 lower the odds for heart disease by nearly 50%.
Aim for what we docs recommend is the healthiest, heart-friendly blood pressure: 115/76. How? Reduce stress, eat smart, get plenty of physical activity, and enjoy these surprising, blood-pressure-lowering foods:
- Purple Potatoes. These potatoes can lower your blood pressure numbers by a respectable 4%. Violet-hued potatoes are packed with anthocyanins, the same good-guy chemicals found in berries that rev up your body's artery-pampering antioxidant defenses. Pink, red, and blue potatoes contain them, too!
- Raisins. Snack on these sweet nuggets instead of chips, cookies, or other processed stuff and you'll lower your blood pressure numbers by 5% to 10%. Raisins contain blood-pressure-friendly potassium, as well as fiber and beneficial compounds called polyphenols that keep artery walls flexible. That's good because stiff blood vessel walls raise blood pressure. For extra oomph, toss raisins in other blood pressure-friendly foods, such as oatmeal, salads, homemade banana bread, or plain, nonfat yogurt. (Here's how raisins help your teeth, too!)
- Walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and cashew nuts. The healthy fat in walnuts keeps inflammation out of your arteries, and the magnesium in all these goodies can lower your systolic blood pressure reading (the top number, which reflects blood pressure at pumping time) by 3 to 4 points, and your diastolic blood pressure reading (bottom number, which reflects blood pressure at rest) by 2 to 3 points. Magnesium helps keep a lid on blood pressure by balancing levels of sodium and calcium in and around your cells. It also helps arteries chill out and relax. You'll get 150 milligrams (mg) of magnesium from an ounce of shelled pumpkin seeds and 81 mg in the same little handful of cashews. That's a good start toward the 400 mg to 500 mg of magnesium you need daily. Make sure your multivitamin contains at least 100 mg of magnesium to top off your tank.
- Protein. Instead of that doughnut, reach for plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, leftover roast chicken, a slice of smoked salmon, or a handful of nuts. By doing so you may lower your systolic blood pressure number by 5 points and decrease your diastolic blood pressure number by one point. Protein keeps your blood sugar levels lower and steadier. Refined foods increase blood sugar, sending blood pressure along for the ride.
- Dark chocolate. Pairing a square of dark chocolate with berries, orange sections, or your favorite fruit is like sending your arteries to a day spa. Eating a half ounce of dark chocolate regularly can drop your blood pressure numbers by 5 points -- enough to lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke by 20%. Credit the flavonols packed into dark chocolate. They boost production of artery-relaxing nitric oxide.