What is High Blood Pressure?
Ideal blood pressure ranges should be between 90-120/50-80 mm Hg. High blood pressure (hypertension) is characterised by a value of 140/90 mm Hg or higher. Having readings consistently high puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular complications such as heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Worryingly, more than 1 in 4 adults in the UK have high blood pressure and it often doesn't cause symptoms, so can go unoticed. This is why it's so important to monitor your blood pressure and get regular readings.
What causes High Blood Pressure?
Certain factors are known to increase risk of getting high blood pressure which include:
- Being over 65 years old
- Being overweight
- Family history of high blood pressure and/or heart disease
- High consumption of salt
- Not eating enough fruit and vegetables
- Drinking too much alcohol, coffee or other caffeine-based drinks
- Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality
In addition certain genetic traits may increase your risk and even which bacteria you host in your gut can influence your risk of hypertension and associated diseases. Luckily, making healthy diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce your chances of getting high blood pressure, and help to lower yours if it is already high. We'll focus on diet and nutrition here, but our app provides recommendations based on sleep, stress and exercise which will also contribute to gaining and maintaing healthy blood pressure readings.
How can my diet influence my blood pressure?
Diet has a big influence on blood pressure here are 10 tips for reducing blood pressure:
- Cut out salt, even if you're not actively adding salt to your food, most of the salt (around 70%) is already added to the food we're consuming. Try reducing how much you use whilst cooking and start experimenting with new herbs and spices which actually bring a lot more flavour to your food!
- Up your potassium intake which helps to reduce blood pressure by balancing the negative effects of salt. Some research has found that for some individuals it's the lack of potassium rather than the salt consumption causing their high blood pressure. Particularly good sources of potassium include: avocados, bananas, beans, broccoli, melon, pomegranate, spinach and sweet potato.
- Limit processed and red meat both are associated with high blood pressure and cholesterol. Public recommendations suggest no more than 2 portions (80g = 1 portion) of red meat a week. Processed meats are best to be avoided as they tend to be very high in salt and offer very little nutritional value.
- Fix your fibre intake most individuals are not getting enough fibre in their diets. Whilst it is recommended to get 30g of fibre a day, the average intake is around 18g. Research has shown an increase in fibre intake by just 4.6g a day was associated with a 2 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure.
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake both of which have a direct and immediate effect on blood pressure. Research has shown heavy drinking can lead to increased risk of hypertension for both men and women by affecting the elasticity of your blood vessels. Whilst coffee temporarily raises both heart rate and blood pressure, if you're regularly having 4 cups or more of coffee a day it's a good idea to start cutting down.
- Introduce plant sterols, these are molecules naturally found in plants which are primarily known to reduce cholesterol, but also have been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure. They are structurally very similar to cholesterol and therefore help in the prevention of cholesterol absorption in the gut. Moving towards a plant-based diets and swapping margarines for ones containing plant sterols can help control both cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Use the power of polyphenols. Polyphenols are a group of chemicals found in foods which have protective health properties, acting as antioxidants. They can help to increase nitric oxide which is known to cause blood vessel dialation, which lowers blood pressure. Good sources of these polyphenols include; beans, berries, beetroot, green tea, pomegranates and pure cocoa powder.
- Stay hydrated! High blood pressure is common in people who are chronically dehydrated. When your cells lack water your brain sends a signal to secrete vasopression, a chemical which leads to the constriction of blood vessels, increasing blood pressure. Try tracking how much water you drink in one day to get a good idea. As a rule of thumb aim for at least 1.5L of pure water a day. We'll provide you with a specific target based on your age, weight, height and lifestyle in the programme.
- Increase your omega-3 levels, these fatty acids found in fish oil have been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. It's best to get these from food sources such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, but if you're likely to be very low in these supplementing can help those with hypertension whilst they put in steps to change their diet.
- Watch your sugar consumption, there are associations between high 'free' sugar intake (those which are absorbed quickly and spike blood sugar levels) and high blood pressure. One study found reducing the sugar content of an individuals diet from 28% to 10% reduced blood pressure by 5 mm Hg in just 9 days. You can track your free sugar intake with our smart food log.
All of these recommendations will be expanded upon and tailored to you, helping you to create habits that are most helpful for you to see results via your weekly goals and meal plan. Remember, if you're ever stuck or in need of additional advice, your dedicated coach will be available to assist you via chat.