Cardiovascular disease is the most prevalent cause of death worldwide. High blood pressure or hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease, and it affects at least one out of three people in the United States. As potentially damaging as it can be, hypertension is largely preventable. Though many popular foods cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and chronic hypertension, others can lower or prevent high blood pressure naturally.
Sesame oil has demonstrated beneficial effects on blood lipid concentrations and arterial blood pressure. In a 2012 study, participants who consumed sesame oil achieved short- and long-term lower blood pressure readings with noticeable differences within an hour of ingestion. The exact mechanism by which sesame oil lowers blood pressure isn't clear. Researchers believe the antioxidants and healthy fats in the oil may play a role.
Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, but many people do not get enough potassium in their diet. Avocados are a rich source of this mineral and the antioxidants lutein, vitamin A and vitamin C, which fight inflammation. They are also low in sodium and high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish popular in Korean cuisine. It is made with heart-healthy ingredients including cruciferous vegetables, ginger, garlic, and red pepper powder. Multiple clinical investigations note the potent antioxidant and anti-atherosclerotic benefits of this food. Many commercial preparations are high in salt, however, so look for low-sodium versions. Kimchi that's not low in sodium may actually cause a rise in blood pressure. So, stick to the low-sodium versions.
Every part of the moringa oleifera plant offers possible pharmacological benefits, but the dried leaves are the most popular part and are a common supplement. A 2019 study in Phytomedicine reports that moringa leaf extract can fight oxidative stress and elevated blood pressure by enhancing the dilation of arteries. The study was carried out in rats, although research in humans also suggests moringa may modestly lower blood pressure. The compounds in moringa responsible for this benefit isn't clear, although antioxidants may play a role.
In 2017, the American Heart Association issued a recommendation to limit saturated fats. The saturated fats lauric acid, capric acid, and caprylic acid make up almost 90% of the fats in coconut oil. Some studies suggest that the saturated fats in coconut oil may have more favorable effects on blood lipids than animal-based saturated fat. However, many experts still believe we should limit saturated fat and replace it with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from plant-based sources. A 2015 study in rats found that a combination of coconut oil and exercise lowered blood pressure, but evidence in humans is still lacking.
Obesity is a major risk factor for hypertension, making it an increasing global health concern. Basil contains high levels of the phytochemicals eugenol and ursolic acid. Research published in the Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology suggests that phenolic acids and flavonoids in basil varieties may inhibit the production of enzymes that trigger oxidative stress and can lead to obesity and elevated blood pressure. Still, more research is needed.
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for aortic stiffness or hardening of the arteries. A 2018 study in Nutrition found that foods such as brown rice, quinoa, wheat berries, amaranth, and millet may help prevent this condition even in cases of chronic overeating. Research shows phytochemicals and soluble fiber in these foods may lower the risk of developing hypertension by several mechanisms. A diet that includes whole grain foods is also linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Rooibos tea, a vibrant and flavorful beverage native to South Africa, is loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that may boost heart health. A 2012 Korean study reports that rooibos helps fight hypertension by reducing the activity of an angiotensin-converting enzyme produced by the kidneys. This tea is the only source of the antioxidant aspalathin, which combats oxidative stress and vascular inflammation.
Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, oranges, and lemons are sources of vitamin C, a nutrient noted for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers at Johns Hopkins discovered that high doses of vitamin C may modestly lower blood pressure by acting as a mild diuretic. A 2019 article in Frontiers in Immunology reports that increased vitamin C consumption correlates to lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Citrus fruits contain more than 60 types of polyphenols along with trace minerals that strengthen and protect the cardiovascular system.
Dietary guidelines have long discouraged whole-fat dairy products because these foods contain saturated fats believed to elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, a 2018 study challenges this presumption. A 15-year multinational Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology study found that consumption of low-fat and whole-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt was associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Another 2018 study involving elderly adults with hypertension linked the intake of low-fat milk and yogurt with improved 24-hour blood pressure control.
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