Can a Plant-Based Diet Reduce High Blood Pressure?
Of the many risk factors for high blood pressure and heart disease, your diet may be the most influential when it comes to long-term health. Food affects your weight, your blood sugar, your cholesterol, and more. If you don’t pay attention to what or how much you’re putting into your body, the consequences could be severe — even deadly.
The more fresh, frozen, and even canned foods you eat (depending on the food in the can), the less likely you are to develop some of the world’s deadliest chronic conditions. Sometimes, healthy eating requires eating more plants — and that’s a good thing.
Here’s why a diet mostly made of plants is beneficial for people living with high blood pressure — and what a “plant-based diet” actually looks like.
What is a plant-based diet?
Traditionally, a plant-based diet determines that most of the foods consumed in a day are classified as plants — fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes (nuts, peas, beans).
However, not all plant-based diets require giving up animal products completely. Many of these diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, allow meat such as chicken and turkey as a supplement to plant foods.
You may have heard of the most common plant-based eating plans:
- Vegetarians eliminate meat, and sometimes fish and eggs (but not always)
- Flexitarians eat mostly plant foods but eat the occasional meat or animal product
- Vegans eliminate all animal products from their diet and sometimes from their lifestyle (e.g., avoiding products made with leather, which comes from cows).
One of the healthiest diets for people with high blood pressure puts an emphasis on plant foods, but also accepts meat and fish as worthwhile additions to a high-quality, blood pressure-lowering way of eating.
Does meat make your blood pressure go up?
Following a diet that mostly encourages filling your belly with plants means eating less meat — or, in some cases, none at all. What does this have to do with high blood pressure?
When we refer to meat, we generally mean all types — chicken, turkey, pheasant, pork, even hot dogs and bacon. But it’s important to remember that not all meat is created equal. Some types provide major health benefits. Others do not.
Highly processed meats, for example — think hot dogs, beef jerky, and bacon — tend to be higher in sodium, which could raise your blood pressure over time if you eat them frequently. However, most chicken is considered a lean meat high in protein and low in fat (plus, very few — if any — carbs).
How you prepare and consume your meat also matters. There’s a big difference between grilling your own chicken at home and having a friend chicken sandwich from your favorite fast food place every day.
That sandwich is still technically made of chicken, but it probably has a lot of sodium — which isn’t good for your blood pressure.
Not all heart-healthy foods have to be plants. But if you do choose to eat meat, it’s important to pick varieties that provide more benefits than harms, and prepare/consume them in healthier ways.
Plant-based diet benefits: Why it’s so good for you
The major health benefits of a plant-based diet include:
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Lower risk of Type 2 diabetes
- Weight loss and maintenance
- Lower total cholesterol.
Plant foods contain fiber, which slows digestion and increases fullness. This helps many people lose weight because they are less tempted to over-consume meals and snacks. Losing weight is just one of many factors that can help reduce high blood pressure.
Best foods to reduce high blood pressure
The best way to reduce high blood pressure through diet is to focus on eating whole foods and eliminating highly processed foods as much as possible. They’re much better for your health overall, even if some are more expensive than processed and fast food.
A healthy mix of plant and animal-based foods will help you maintain or achieve a healthy blood pressure for numerous reasons. To get on the right track, start adding these foods to your diet regularly:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grain bread, pasta, and rice
- Quinoa, oats, oatmeal
- Fruits and vegetables
- Lean proteins — even meat and fish a few times per week
- Chickpeas, hummus
- High-protein dairy products (e.g., Greek yogurt, fresh cheese).
A plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to give up meat. However, eating more fresh and frozen foods (not highly processed “convenience foods”) will improve your health. For you, this might mean eating less meat or none at all. It’s really about preference, and the health goals you’re trying to reach along the way.