Nutrition for Hypertension and Heart Disease

Heart disease and high blood pressure — known as hypertension — are two of the most common health challenges in the US today. A 2023 report found that nearly half of Americans aged 20 and older have hypertension, while heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, responsible for upwards of 695,000 deaths a year.

Understanding the role of nutrition in managing and preventing these diseases is crucial. Read on to explore nutrition for hypertension and nutrition for heart disease, and to discover effective dietary strategies for dealing with these diseases.

Understanding Hypertension and Heart Disease

Hypertension is often referred to as a “silent killer” because it typically has no symptoms but significantly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Heart disease encompasses a range of conditions affecting the heart, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, and congenital heart defects.

The Role of Diet

Diet plays a pivotal role in both the development and management of hypertension and heart disease. Poor dietary choices, like high salt intake, can lead to elevated blood pressure, while a heart-healthy diet can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Dietary Guidelines for Hypertension and Heart Disease

Reduce Sodium Intake

Reducing sodium intake is important for preventing and managing hypertension and heart disease because it helps lower blood pressure, a key risk factor for these conditions. Excess sodium causes the body to retain water, increasing the volume of blood and subsequently the pressure on blood vessels.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, moving toward an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults. To reduce sodium in your diet, opt for fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned fruits and vegetables, choose low-sodium or no-salt-added products, avoid processed foods like deli meats and fast food, and season your meals with herbs and spices instead of salt. When possible, cook meals at home, as the average restaurant meal can contain the upper limit of recommended daily salt intake. 77% of Americans’ sodium intake comes from processed and restaurant foods. Remember to read labels to check for sodium content.

Increase Potassium

Potassium helps balance sodium levels in the body and eases tension in the blood vessel walls, which can lower blood pressure. To increase your potassium intake, incorporate potassium-rich foods like bananas, oranges, sweet potatoes, spinach, and beans into your meals. These natural sources of potassium not only counteract the effects of sodium, but also provide other health benefits derived from good nutrition.

Focus on Heart-Healthy Fats

Heart-healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, play a crucial role in cardiovascular health by helping to reduce high cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. To incorporate these beneficial fats into your diet, focus on including foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines.

On a tight food budget? You can add heart-healthy fats to your diet by choosing affordable options like canned fatty fish, such as sardines or mackerel; using olive and canola oil for cooking; and adding nuts or seeds, like sunflower, peanuts, or flaxseeds, to your meals for added nutrition and flavor.

Fiber-Rich Foods

Fiber-rich foods help reduce blood cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health. Incorporating fiber into your diet can be as simple as choosing whole grains over refined ones, adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to your meals, and including legumes — such as beans and lentils — in your diet. These changes not only increase your fiber intake, but also contribute to a more balanced and heart-healthy diet.

Limit Added Sugars

Excessive sugar intake can lead to weight gain, higher blood pressure, and increased risk of heart disease. To limit added sugars in your diet, avoid sugary drinks like sodas and energy drinks, read food labels to identify hidden added sugars in processed foods, and opt for natural sweeteners like fruits or honey in moderation. Choosing whole, unprocessed foods over packaged items is also a key strategy in reducing added sugar consumption.

Regular Meal Times

Maintaining regular meal times is crucial for preventing and managing hypertension and heart disease as it helps regulate the body’s metabolism, controls blood sugar levels, and prevents overeating, which can lead to obesity and increased heart strain.

For those facing food insecurity, establishing a consistent eating schedule can be challenging — but it is achievable! Prioritize affordable, nutrient-dense foods like bulk grains, beans, and seasonal produce when available. Utilize community resources such as food banks like ours and food assistance programs like CalFresh, which can provide access to healthy food options. Planning or making meals ahead and portioning them can also help stretch limited resources while maintaining regular eating intervals.

Heart-Healthy Foods to Incorporate Into Your Diet

  • Fruits and vegetables: They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and low in calories. Aim for a variety of colors to ensure a broad range of nutrients.
  • Whole grains: Choose whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereals over refined grains.
  • Lean protein: Opt for lean meat cuts, poultry, fish, beans, peas, and lentils.

Limit These Less Heart-Healthy Foods

  • High-sodium foods: Fast food, processed meats, and some canned soup brands are typically high in sodium.
  • High-sugar foods: Sodas, candies, and baked goods can spike blood sugar levels.
  • Saturated and trans fats: Found in red meat, butter, and processed foods, these fats can raise your cholesterol levels.

Want help deciding on heart-healthy meals to make? Explore our recipes page for inspiration!

Managing hypertension and heart disease through diet can make a powerful difference in your life, health, and overall well-being. By making conscious food choices and lifestyle changes, you can significantly impact your heart health. Remember, a heart-healthy lifestyle involves more than just dietary changes. Engage in regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, stay hydrated, and learn to manage your stress for best wellness results.

About the SLO Food Bank

We at the SLO Food Bank believe that everyone has the right to nutritious food. That’s why we work hard to ensure access to fresh food for everyone in our community. We structure our programs in a few different ways to make fresh produce more accessible and affordable for those who need it. We also promote food assistance programs like CalFresh, while also hosting food distributions in the most rural areas of our county, where a grocery store may be more than 50 miles away.

With our network of community partners in San Luis Obispo, we strive to alleviate hunger and to build a healthier community. If you’re in the area, check out our Food Resources Map to find food sources near you, or support our cause through volunteer opportunities or donations, if you are able to give. Donate today to help us bring health and hope to San Luis Obispo County!