6 Fabulous Foods to Fight High Blood Pressure

And one surprise

April 15, 2011 AARP Bulletin by: Candy Sagon

New science is changing the way people 50 and older judge their blood pressure, and a slew of new studies on foods and hypertension suggest it may be easier than you thought to reduce high blood pressure.

For older adults, it's that upper number in your blood pressure reading that may be the best indicator of future heart problems or even premature death. A normal reading is around 120/80. If that first number is 140 or higher, you have reason for concern.

Minnesota researchers investigating the most accurate predictor of premature death based on blood pressure readings found the dividing line was age 50: For those 50 and over, it was the first number, or systolic pressure. For those under 50, the most accurate predictor was the second number, or diastolic pressure. The study, which analyzed two decades of blood pressure data, was published in the March Issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

So what can you do if your top number is creeping up toward 140 or beyond?

Eat more of these six fabulous foods that not only taste good, but also work naturally to dilate blood vessels and decrease blood pressure. Plus, a surprise tip on how choosing the right kind of soup can have an immediate impact.

1. Go blue!

Just one serving of blueberries a week can help cut your risk of high blood pressure. Blueberries, as well as raspberries and strawberries, contain natural compounds called anthocyanins that protect against hypertension, according to a recent British and American study of about 157,000 men and women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

2. Cereal thriller

Having a bowl of breakfast cereal, especially whole-grain, high-fiber cereals like oatmeal, oat squares, bran flakes or shredded wheat, can reduce your chance of developing high blood pressure, Harvard University researchers recently found. Plus, the more servings of cereal you eat a week, the greater the benefits. Add to that the recent research on blueberries, and you could double your health rewards by topping your cereal with berries.

3. One potato, two

Everyone loves a baked potato, right? But did you know that a baked potato is high in potassium and magnesium, two important minerals that can help fight high blood pressure? Research shows that if Americans boosted their potassium intake, adult cases of high blood pressure could fall by more than 10 percent. As for magnesium, many older Americans fail to get enough in their diet, according to the National Institutes of Health. So why not kill two birds with one food. In addition to baked potatoes, here are some other foods high in both these minerals: halibut, spinach, bananas, soybeans, kidney beans and plain nonfat yogurt.

4. The beet goes on

Drinking a glass of beet juice can lower blood pressure within just a few hours, according to a Queen Mary University of London study published last year in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. The nitrate in the juice has the same effect as taking a nitrate tablet, the researchers found. Beet juice can be found at some health food stores and specialty groceries such as Whole Foods. Other nitrate-rich foods include spinach, lettuce, cabbage, carrots and, of course, whole beets

5. Got (skim) milk?

Eating low-fat dairy products can reduce a woman's risk of developing hypertension. That's the conclusion of a 2008 study of nearly 30,000 women with an average age of 54. The women who ate the most low-fat dairy products yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, frozen yogurt, skim or low-fat milk were 11 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure.

6. The dark side

Chocolate lovers rejoice! Eating a one-ounce square of dark chocolate daily can help lower blood pressure, especially in people who already have hypertension, according to Harvard researchers who analyzed 24 chocolate studies. Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, natural compounds that cause dilation of the blood vessels. Look for chocolates that say they contain 50 to 70 percent cacao, such as Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao dark chocolate squares.

The Surprise! Low-salt soup to nuts

It takes just 30 minutes for salty food to reduce the arteries' ability to dilate even in people with healthy blood pressure, according to a new Australian study. Half the study's participants were given reduced-salt tomato soup, the other half ate soup with 10 times the salt. The researchers were surprised to find that after only 30 minutes the arteries of those who ate the salty soup widened only half as much as those who ate the low-salt version. The lesson here: Choose reduced-salt versions of foods like soup, nuts and other typically salty foods.