One factor that Chris brought up is the potassium content of the diet. Potassium intake is strongly related to blood pressure. Controlled trials have shown that potassium supplementation can reduce blood pressure by a significant amount in people with hypertension (high blood pressure) (2). However, there are better ways to get potassium than via supplements. Vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of potassium, including starchy root vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Simply replacing grains in the diet with root vegetables will greatly increase potassium intake, as shown by the following graph, illustrating the USDA percent recommended intake from a 100-calorie portion of each food:
Besides increasing the intake of potassium-rich foods, here are a few other strategies that can reduce blood pressure naturally in people with hypertension:
- Fat loss. If you carry excess body fat, losing some or all of it can help reduce blood pressure. This is true regardless of the method used to lose fat, suggesting that the excess body fat and/or excess calorie intake that typically accompanies it is the culprit.
- Exercise. Although exercise can transiently increase blood pressure, over time as fitness increases, both blood pressure and pulse rate decline in previously unfit people with hypertension.
- Improving the quantity and quality of sleep. Short sleep duration is associated with the development of hypertension, obesity, and other problems (3). Correcting sleep apnea reduces blood pressure (4). Quality sleep is a major foundation of good health. If it's 10 PM or later where you are, why not make a commitment to go to bed right after finishing this post?
- Hibiscus tea. Commonly consumed as a pleasant herbal tea in the Middle East, this one is quite effective and has been supported by several placebo-controlled trials (5). It also tastes good.
- Chocolate. Several placebo-controlled trials have shown that dark chocolate or cocoa reduces blood pressure in people with high or even high-normal blood pressure (6, 7). Dark chocolate also appears to increase insulin sensitivity and the skin's resistance to sunburn if eaten regularly, but that's for another post. All effects are probably related to chocolate's polyphenol content. I prefer plain toasted cocoa nibs because they don't encourage overeating, but dark chocolate (70+ percent cocoa mass) also works if you're able to include it in moderation as part of an overall healthy eating pattern. You may want to avoid eating chocolate in the evening because it can interfere with sleep.
- What did I leave out? Put it in the comments.