It's always wise to make healthy food choices. It becomes even more important when treating hypertension.

Changing the foods you eat is a great way to help lower blood pressure. Eating healthier foods at home and outside of the home is an important part of reaching a goal of lower blood pressure. Here are some tips on eating to help lower blood pressure:

  • Limit your alcohol intake to:
    • no more than 2 drinks per day, up to a maximum of 9 drinks per week for women
    • no more than 3 drinks per day, up to a maximum of 14 drinks per week for men
  • Eat a well-balanced diet (e.g., increase the amount of fruits and vegetables, grains, and cereals).
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist first before adding foods or supplements that are rich in potassium.
  • Read food labels to get more information about the nutrients in the foods you are eating.
  • Eat less saturated fat and cholesterol whenever possible (e.g., choose lean cuts of meat and avoid foods containing saturated fats; choose low-fat dairy products).
  • Get plenty of fibre.
  • Eat more whole grains and get more of your dietary protein from plant sources.
  • Reduce the amount of salt in your food.

More on salt

The majority of people consume much more than the recommended limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day, when in fact, your body only needs 1,200 mg to 1,500 mg per day to function healthily. The good news is that there are many simple ways that you can cut down on your salt intake, starting today.

  • Replace salt with other tasty seasonings. Try adding flavour to your food with herbs and spices such as oregano, basil, thyme, or pepper. Garlic and lemon are also delicious options to boost taste.
  • Consume processed foods less often. About 80% of our daily salt intake comes from processed foods, especially pizza, breads, soups and sauces. An easy way to consume less processed food is to avoid buying anything in a can, box, or bag, as these often contain high amounts of salt. Fresh foods do not contain added salt and are lower in sodium than pre-packaged foods.
  • Read the nutrition labels. The nutrition facts will tell you the amount of sodium in the serving size indicated at the top of the table (read this number carefully as it is dependent on the indicated serving). It will also tell you the percentage of the daily value (%DV) of sodium it contains.
  • Choose low-sodium products. Many food products now offer a reduced or low-sodium alternative.
  • Be aware of salt or sodium in disguise. There are other compounds that can increase the sodium content of food. These include monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking powder, baking soda, disodium phosphate, and sodium nitrate or nitrite. Read the ingredient label to determine if these compounds are included.
  • Remove or cut down the amount of salt in recipes. Cut the amount of salt called for by half and your taste buds won't even know the difference!
  • Ask for the nutrition facts when eating out. Nutrition information is often available on restaurant websites or can be given to you upon request. Use this information to choose meals that are lower in sodium.
  • Try to limit the use of condiments. Condiments can contain high amounts of salt, so cutting back or limiting their use will help reduce your daily salt intake.

The DASH diet

A common diet that is often used to manage blood pressure is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This diet is rich in fibre and nutrients and contains much more potassium, calcium, and magnesium than the average diet.

Many studies have shown that in as little as several weeks, people on this diet significantly reduced their blood pressure, and that it is a very effective diet in reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.

The key to success with any new diet is in not making drastic changes all at one time. It takes time to develop new eating habits and make food choices that make you feel healthier and satisfied.

There are some useful tips that you can use to adjust to the DASH diet:

  • Add more fruits and vegetables slowly to your diet. Try replacing fatty snacks with a fruit instead.
  • Increase your daily intake of dairy products. If you have trouble digesting dairy products, there are lactose intolerance pills that can aid in digesting these foods.
  • Replace enriched flour breads with whole grain bread.
  • Choose whole-grain cereals without large amounts of additives and sugar.
  • Eat fruit-flavoured gelatin or dried fruit snacks.
  • Add more nuts, seeds, and legumes to your daily diet.
  • Keep to modest amounts of protein foods, preferably soy, fish, and poultry.

Visit Health Canada's website to get a copy of Canada's Food Guide for more information on healthy eating.