What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels) which carry the blood throughout the body. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, means the pressure in your arteries is above the normal range. In most cases, no one knows what causes high blood pressure. What you eat can affect your blood pressure.

How does nutrition affect blood pressure?

  • Certain foods can increase blood pressure
  • Certain foods can lower blood pressure
  • Gaining weight can increase blood pressure
  • Losing weight can reduce blood pressure

What should I eat to control high blood pressure?

  • Eat foods lower in fat, salt, and calories.
  • Use spices and herbs, vinegar, lemon or fruit juices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Use less oil, butter, margarine, shortening, and salad dressings.

What are some of the foods I should eat?

  • Skim or 1% milk, yogurt, Greek yogurt (calcium-rich foods can lower blood pressure)
  • Lean meat
  • Skinless turkey and chicken
  • Low-salt, ready-to-eat cereals
  • Cooked hot cereal (not instant)
  • Low-fat and low-salt cheeses
  • Fruits (fresh, frozen, or canned without added salt)
  • Vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned, no added salt)
    1. Richly colored green, orange, and red items are high in potassium and minerals that help lower blood pressure.
    2. The goal is 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Plain rice, pasta, and potatoes
  • Breads (English muffins, bagels, rolls, and tortillas)
  • Lower salt “prepared” convenience food

Unsalted seeds (pumpkin, squash, sunflower) and unsalted nuts are mineral-rich foods that lower blood pressure.

What food should I eat less of?

  • Butter and margarine
  • Regular salad dressings
  • Fatty meats
  • Whole milk dairy products
  • Fried foods
  • Salted snacks
  • Canned soups
  • Fast foods
  • Deli meats

What's the difference between sodium and salt?

Salt is mostly sodium, a mineral that occurs naturally in foods. Sodium is the substance that may cause your blood pressure to increase. Other forms of sodium are also present in food. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is another example of a sodium added to food (common in Chinese food).

How does salt increase blood pressure?

When you eat too much salt, which contains sodium, your body holds extra water to “wash” the salt from your body. In some people, this may cause blood pressure to rise. The added water puts stress on your heart and blood vessels.

How much sodium is too much?

The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sodium intake no more than 1,500 milligrams. (A teaspoon of salt has about 2,400 milligrams of sodium.) Most people greatly exceed these sodium guidelines.

How can I reduce my sodium intake?

  • Don’t use table salt.
  • Read nutrition labels and choose foods lower in sodium.
  • Choose foods marked “sodium-free,” “low sodium,” and “unsalted.”
  • Use salt substitutes (ask your health care provider first).
  • Don’t use lite salt as a substitute.
  • Read content labels (Contents are listed in order of greatest amount.)
  • Purchase sodium-free herbs and seasoning mixes like Mrs. Dash.® 

What foods are high in sodium?

  • Processed foods such as lunch meats, sausage, bacon, and ham
  • Canned soups, bouillon, dried soup mixes
  • Deli meats
  • Condiments (catsup, soy sauce, salad dressings)
  • Frozen and boxed mixes for potatoes, rice and pasta
  • Snack foods (pretzels, popcorn, peanuts, chips)
  • Pickled or marinated food in brine. (Vinegar and lemon juice-based marinades are okay)

What else should I do to change my diet?

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Eat a variety of foods
  • Eat foods high in dietary fiber (whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, fresh fruit, and vegetables)

Comparison of sodium in foods

Meats, poultry, fish, and shellfish

Food: Milligrams (mg.) sodium

Fresh meat, 85 g (3 oz.) cooked: Less than 90 mg

Shellfish, 85 g (3 oz.): 100 to 325 mg

Tuna, canned, 85 g (3 oz.): 300 mg

Lean ham, 85 g (3 oz.).: 1,025 mg

Dairy products

Food: Milligrams sodium

*Whole milk, 240 ml (1 cup): 120 mg

Skim or 1% milk, 240 ml (1 cup): 125 mg

*Buttermilk (salt added), 240 ml (1 cup): 260 mg

*Swiss cheese, 28 g (1 oz): 75 mg

*Cheddar cheese, 28 g (1 oz): 175 mg

Low-fat cheese, 28 g (1 oz): 150 mg

*Cottage cheese (regular), 120 ml (1/2 cup): 455 mg


Food: Milligrams sodium

Fresh or frozen vegetables, and no-salt-added canned (cooked without salt), 120 ml (1/2 cup): Less than 70 mg

Vegetables canned or frozen (without sauce), 120 ml (1/2 cup): 55-470 mg

Tomato juice, canned, 360 ml (3/4 cup): 660 mg

Breadscereals, rice and pasta

Food: Milligrams sodium

Bread, 1 slice: 110-175 mg

English muffin (half): 130 mg

Ready-to-eat, shredded wheat, 360 ml (3/4 cup): Less than 5 mg

Cooked cereal (unsalted), 120 ml (1/2 cup): Less than 5 mg

Instant cooked cereal, 1 packet: 180 mg

Canned soups, 240 ml (1 cup): 600-1,300 mg

Convenience foods

Food: Milligrams sodium

Canned and frozen main dishes, 227 g (8 oz): 500-1,570 mg

*These can also be high in saturated fat, unless low-fat or reduced-fat options are purchased.

*High in saturated fat


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