You’ve probably heard high blood pressure, or hypertension, called “the silent killer” at some point. It sounds ominous, but high blood pressure is truly a difficult disease to detect. Statistics show over 77 million Americans suffer from hypertension, potentially resulting in life-threatening heart attacks or strokes.
With 1 out of every 3 adults affected, prevention is vital. The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) remains the best studied nutrition plan for blood pressure control. DASH emphasizes certain nutrients (fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and low glycemic index carbohydrates), while reducing others (saturated fat and sodium). Research published in 2017 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports improved blood pressure when certain foods are emphasized—fruits, fish, nuts, and seeds. Stocking your kitchen with these foods is a smart move for your heart health. Here are a few that are easy to incorporate into your daily meals and snacks.
Mom was right when she said, “Eat your oatmeal!” Oats are one of the richest plant sources of magnesium, an important nutrient on the DASH diet. Research published in the Journal of Family Practice reports that eating oats significantly reduces both systolic and diastolic pressures in people with hypertension. Beta-glucan, the primary fiber found in oats, plays an important role in heart health.
Overnight oats are all the rage, and with good reason. These make-ahead breakfasts can be customized with your favorite fruit and nut flavors—everything from Pina colada to cocoa banana to blueberry walnut. If old fashioned oatmeal isn’t your thing, consider adding oats to foods you’re already eating. Sneak ground oats into your baked goods. Use oats in the coating of your baked chicken breasts for a healthier crunch. Or, swap cooked oats for other starchy sides like rice or barley.
Eating more nuts leads to lower blood pressure—plain and simple. Multiple researchers report this health fact. Specifically, pistachios were singled out in a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as having the strongest effect in reducing blood pressure. What is it about pistachios? Several nutrients—magnesium, potassium, and fiber—likely all play a role in improving blood pressure. With more potassium than a banana, a handful of pistachios also contains powerful antioxidants—polyphenols and carotenoids.
Top your salads, yogurt, and tacos with chopped pistachios for a crunch. Puree them into your favorite hummus recipe for a beautiful green tint. Or, enjoy a handful as an afternoon pick-me-up. Culinary nutritionist, Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, adds pistachios to this comforting red pepper paprika soup, perfect for the cool months ahead.
There’s power in the purple! The Concord grape grows in specific cold northern regions of the United States. The signature deep purple color comes from polyphenols, known to improve heart health. Concord grapes contain more polyphenols, such as anthocyanins, catechin, epicatechin, and quercetin, than other grape varieties. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported improved nighttime blood pressure in people with pre-hypertension when Concord grape juice was consumed prior to bedtime for eight weeks. Similarly, research demonstrates favorable changes in blood pressure after daily ingestion of Concord grape juice, as documented in Biomarkers.
Grapes are a perfect snack, both raw or as a frozen cool treat. Roasted grapes provide a sweet and elegant accompaniment to halibut or other white fish. Add grapes to salads, salsas, vinaigrette dressings, or breakfast smoothies for a nutritional boost.
That morning glass of OJ just got better. Oranges and OJ are super rich sources of potassium, an important mineral on the DASH diet. In fact, oranges are one of the highest potassium foods that are available year-round. What’s more, hesperidin, a flavonoid associated with reduction in blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, is naturally found in oranges and orange juice. Emerging research suggests that hesperidin may help maintain healthy blood pressure and blood vessel function when overweight men consumed OJ daily,
Don’t forget about other ways to enjoy the benefits of oranges. Christy Wilson, RDN, created this decadent dessert featuring fresh oranges. Try adding orange juice as the spotlight ingredient in salad dressing, like this one from Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD.
Lentils are one of the “pulses” along with black beans, chickpeas, split peas and pinto beans. Pulses are rich in fiber and potassium, both super stars of the DASH diet and linked to improved blood pressure. Lentils were singled out as independently attenuating blood pressure in one study published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
The beauty of lentils is their quick cooking time—ready from dried to table in less than 30 minutes. Lentils are the perfect plant-based protein, and have a lower glycemic index than other pulses. Sneak these babies in your diet easily by replacing about ½ of the meat in your tacos with cooked lentils, or ½ of the oil in your baked goods with pureed cooked lentils. You’ll enjoy the improved fiber and fat content of your favorite cookies and muffins.
You can’t beat beets! These root vegetables contain two minerals (magnesium and potassium) noteworthy in combating high blood pressure. What’s more, beets are high in dietary nitrates, which studies have linked to markedly reduced blood pressure. Research reported in the journal Hypertension hypothesized the natural conversion of nitrates to nitrites and nitric oxide during digestion and absorption positively impacts blood pressure.
Beets are delicious roasted and steamed, while maintaining their vital nutrients. Add cooked beets to your favorite hummus recipe for a gorgeous and tasty appetizer. Try this roasted beet pesto and greens pasta toss for a nutritionally-packed dinner from dietitian nutritionist Katie Pfeffer-Scanlan, RD.
Article originally appeared on Rodale’s Organic Life.