10 Foods To Avoid With High Blood Pressure

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What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, often referred to as hypertension, is the pressure at which blood flows from your heart through your blood vessels. When blood pressure is consistently high, it can cause problems with your heart or damage your arteries. Due to its ability to develop without noticeable symptoms, high blood pressure is often labeled a ‘silent killer.’

High blood pressure is prevalent in the US, as nearly half (47%¹) of adults currently experience it.

It is essential that you have regular check-ups and discuss any concerns with your doctor to detect high blood pressure early and treat it as soon as possible. 

Blood pressure ranges

Below are the five blood pressure ranges according to the American Heart Association². Systolic refers to the top number, and diastolic is the bottom number:

  1. Normal — Systolic <120 mm Hg and Diastolic <80 mm Hg

  2. Elevated — Systolic 120-129 mm Hg and Diastolic <80 mm Hg

  3. Stage 1 high blood pressure — Systolic 130-139 mm Hg or Diastolic 80-89 mm Hg

  4. Stage 2 high blood pressure — Systolic 140 mm Hg or higher or Diastolic 90 mm Hg or higher

  5. Hypertensive Crisis — Systolic >180 mm Hg and/or Diastolic >120 mm Hg

Foods to avoid with high blood pressure

Certain foods can elevate your blood pressure or prevent it from lowering to a healthy level. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is important to watch what you eat.

There are dozens of foods you need to avoid with high blood pressure to maintain healthy levels, so make sure to discuss with your doctor and a dietitian which diet plan is right for you. However, you should generally avoid some categories of food if you have hypertension.

Below are ten foods you should avoid if you have high blood pressure:

Deep-fried foods

According to one review³ of several studies, deep-fried foods, such as French fries and fried chicken wings, are associated with many health conditions when consumed four or more times a week. Fried foods were linked to a higher risk of developing the following conditions:

Another study⁴ of 428 women between the ages of 20 and 57 found a higher association between prehypertension (elevated blood pressure) and hypertension where participants had a high intake of fried foods compared to those who did not consume fried foods. 

Some fried foods to avoid include:

  • Fried wings

  • French fries and potato chips

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are commonly found in many popular American foods. Research⁵ supports reducing saturated fat intake, which has been linked to increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Another study⁶ revealed that while diets high in saturated fats saw an increase in blood pressure,  diets rich in polyunsaturated fats, such as from fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds, helped prevent blood pressure elevation

Common saturated fats to avoid include:

  • Desserts (chocolate, cake, pies)

  • Full-fat dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese, cream) 

Red meat

Although red meat is often recommended as part of a healthy diet due to containing high amounts of vitamin B12, zinc, protein, and other essential nutrients, it can also be dangerous if consumed in large quantities if you have high blood pressure.

Research⁷ shows that 9.8% of people with hypertension and 37% of people with prehypertension consumed red meat regularly. One study⁸ that reviewed 97,745 cases of high blood pressure found a positive association between red meat consumption and increased risk for high blood pressure. The review observed a 14% increased risk for every additional 100 grams of red meat consumed per day. 

Popular red meats to avoid include:

  • Beef

  • Pork

Sugar

According to research⁹, evidence from several studies and experimental trials has indicated that added sugar, particularly fructose, boosts heart rate and plays a role in inflammation and insulin resistance while also increasing blood pressure and its variability.

Another study¹⁰ reported that the consumption of sugary drinks and foods, such as in the Standard American Diet, is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure in older women especially. 

Popular sugary foods to avoid include:

  • Prepackaged meals 

  • Granola bars

  • Drinks such as soda and fruit juice

Salt

AHA Journals¹¹ reports that high intakes of both sugar and salt directly increase high blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic. A study¹² exclusively on sodium (salt) found that reducing salt intake by a moderate amount lowers blood pressure. The report recommends a daily salt intake of less than five to six grams to see the most benefit.

Popular salty foods to avoid include:

  • Canned soups and canned meat

  • Cold cuts

  • Potato chips and salty snacks

Is an unhealthy diet the only cause of high blood pressure?

While an unhealthy diet can play a significant role in elevating or lowering your blood pressure, it is not the only cause associated with the condition. Age plays a role, as being 65 or older is a common risk for high blood pressure. In fact, research¹³ shows that hypertension prevalence increases from 22.4% for those aged between 18 and 39 to 74.5% for those aged over 60.

Other common causes include having a family history of high blood pressure,  stress, use of medication, and birth control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports another three common causes¹⁴:

  1. Unhealthy lifestyle — This includes overeating, smoking, sitting for a long time, and doing little to no exercise.

  2. Health conditions — These include obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, sleep apnea, and other conditions.

  3. Pregnancy — It's common for blood pressure to be higher among pregnant women, so doctors should regularly monitor it to ensure it does not get dangerously high. 

Foods to eat more of if you have high blood pressure

After discussing the right treatment plan with your doctor, you may find that one of the best ways to lower your blood pressure is by consuming healthier foods. You could also try the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension).

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute¹⁵ (NIH), the DASH eating plan for a 2,000-calorie a day diet includes: 

  • Six to eight servings of grains

  • Six or fewer servings of meat, poultry, and fish

  • Four to five servings of vegetables

  • Four to five servings of fruit

  • Two to three servings of low-fat  or fat-free dairy products

  • Two to three servings of fats and oils

  • 2,300 milligrams of sodium (recommendations vary, but the lower, the better)

The NIH adds that the DASH diet often includes four to five servings of nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas per week and five or fewer servings of sweets or desserts per week. 

You should discuss the DASH diet with your doctor and a nutritionist or dietitian before starting to ensure you follow it correctly. It is also common for certain modifications to be made depending on your condition, allergies, and medical history.

Other lifestyle changes to help lower high blood pressure

You will need to make other important changes to your typical routine to reduce high blood pressure and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Your doctor will be able to suggest additional lifestyle changes for your specific needs, which may include the following:

Quitting smoking

According to research¹⁶, smoking significantly increases both heart rate and blood pressure.  This is because nicotine is associated with narrower blood vessels¹⁷, and narrow blood vessels combined with a faster heart rate cause high blood pressure. One study reported a 4.0±17.9 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure and a 2.5±12.0 mm Hg decrease in diastolic blood pressure among hypertensive patients. 

Exercising regularly

Exercising can play both preventative and therapeutic roles in blood pressure management. In addition to boosting your cardiovascular health, exercise also helps to manage body weight. A higher body weight is considered a strong risk factor¹⁸ for hypertension. Likewise, studies¹⁹ have found a link between exercise training and lower blood pressure results. One study²⁰ even reported that exercise reduced systolic blood pressure by 6±12 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 3±7 mm Hg among participants. 

Reducing alcohol and caffeine

You can safely consume both caffeine and alcohol in moderation. However, they cause high blood pressure or prevent blood pressure-lowering if consumed excessively. One study²¹ found that reducing alcohol intake resulted in an average systolic blood pressure reduction of 3.31 mm Hg. Another study²² reported that, although there isn't substantial evidence supporting a link between long-term coffee consumption and high blood pressure, caffeine intake can acutely increase blood pressure for three or more hours.

When to speak to a healthcare professional

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have high blood pressure, you should consult your doctor immediately. You should also ensure that you have regular check-ups with your doctor, as hypertension often does not come with any noticeable symptoms, and it can be dangerous if left untreated. This is especially true as you get older since the risks of developing high blood pressure increase with age. Early detection is key to treating and managing high blood pressure.

If you have already been diagnosed with hypertension and experience one or more of the following symptoms with a blood pressure higher than 180/120, speak to a healthcare professional immediately:

  • Chest pain

  • Back pain

  • Dizziness 

  • Numbness

  • Tiredness/weakness

  • Loss of vision

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Difficulty breathing 

  • Severe headache

The lowdown

High blood pressure is a treatable and manageable condition, but it can be fatal if you don’t follow your doctor’s recommendations properly. If you have high blood pressure, you should limit the ten categories of food outlined in this article to reduce your risk of hypertension and lower your blood pressure. These include:

  • Fried foods such as wings and French fries

  • Saturated fats such as chocolate and full-fat daily products

  • Red meats such as beef and pork

  • Sugary foods like granola bars and prepackaged meals

  • Salty foods like canned soup and meat and cold cuts

You should also add more nutritious foods to your diet, such as by following the DASH plan. This will ensure you're getting all your healthy servings of essential vitamins and minerals while limiting your intake of unhealthy foods. It is also important to make other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake

Ensure that you discuss your high blood pressure with your doctor and any diet and lifestyle changes before starting a treatment program. Remember to seek medical attention immediately if your blood pressure is 180/120 or higher.

  1. Facts about hypertension | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  2. Understanding blood pressure readings | American Heart Association

  3. Fried food consumption and cardiovascular health: A review of current evidence (2016)

  4. Association of fried food intake with prehypertension and hypertension: The Filipino women's diet and health study (2020)

  5. The correlation between dietary fat intake and blood pressure among people with spinal cord injury (2016)

  6. Dietary fatty acids and the risk of hypertension in middle-aged and older women (2011)

  7. Red meat consumption and its association with hypertension and hyperlipidaemia among adult Maasai pastoralists of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania (2020)

  8. Food groups and risk of hypertension: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies (2017)

  9. The wrong white crystals: Not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease (2014)

  10. Added sugar intake is associated with blood pressure in older females (2019)

  11. Sugar and salt in the pathogenesis of elevated blood pressure | American Heart Association

  12. Dietary salt intake and hypertension (2014)

  13. Hypertension prevalence among adults aged 18 and over: united states, 2017–2018 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  14. High blood pressure symptoms and causes | Centers for Disease Contol and prevention

  15. Dash eating plan | National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

  16. Association between smoking and blood pressure (2001)

  17. How tobacco smoke causes disease: the biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease: A report of the surgeon general | NCBI

  18. Obesity and hypertension—the issue is more complex than we thought |Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation

  19. Acute effects of exercise on blood pressure: A meta-analytic investigation (2016)

  20. Aerobic exercise reduces blood pressure in resistant hypertension (2012)

  21. The effect of a reduction in alcohol consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis (2017)

  22. The effect of coffee on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in hypertensive individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis (2011)

Have you considered clinical trials for High blood pressure?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for High blood pressure, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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