A diet that consists of 30% fats, 20%-25% protein, and 45%-50% carbohydrates is recommended by Cardiologist Stephen T. Sinatra for people who are working to control high blood pressure. The fats should come from fish such as salmon, mackerel, Greenland halibut, cod, and blue fish (but not tuna because of possible mercury contamination). Large amounts of red meat should be avoided, while fresh fruits and vegetables are emphasized. This is basically the so-called Mediterranean diet.
A now classic study conducted in the 1980s, investigating the rate of heart attacks over a ten-year period for individuals in European nations, revealed that the island of Crete reported no heart attacks as a cause of death, even though many of the residents had dangerously high cholesterol levels, a presumed risk factor for heart disease.
According to Dr. Sinatra, “the Mediterranean diet, rich in monounsaturated fat (olive oil) and antioxidants, has proved to be crucial in cardiovascular protection.” Dr. Sinatra says this diet is low in saturated fats (such as dairy products and meats), high in fiber and antioxidants (vitamin C, beta carotene, and vitamin E) from fresh fruits and vegetables, and high in essential fatty acids, found in fish, flaxseed oil, and other omega-3 oils. Avocados and asparagus, commonly eaten in this diet, are rich in L-glutathione, an amino acid that can scavenge for harmful free radicals. And olive oil is “the healthiest of oils, no doubt,” says Dr. Sinatra. Also, garlic and other members of the onion family (prominent in this diet) help because they significantly reduce blood pressure.
Making relatively simple changes in diet can lower blood pressure as effectively as conventional hypertension drugs. This was confirmed in a study directed by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, in Portland, Oregon, in cooperation with researchers at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Duke Universities. The study enrolled 459 with a starting blood pressure of 160/80-95 (high blood pressure was considered 140/90 or higher). The participants were divided into three groups, each following a different diet. The first group ate a conventional American diet (typically high in fats, sugar, meat, and processed foods); the second group ate the same diet complemented with fruits and vegetables. The third group practiced a diet low in fats, comprising only 31% of the total calories, kept their consumption of cholesterol low, and their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products high. Changes in blood pressure were noticeable within two weeks. For those in the third group, blood pressure values dropped by an average of 5.5/3.0, while for those in the second group, the readings declined an average of 2.8/1.1.
Another study compared the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in fish or fish oil supplements in 125 men with moderately high blood pressure consuming high-fat or low-fat diets. The subjects ate fish, took fish oil supplements, or had a combination providing an average total of 3.65 g per day of omega-3 fatty acids. There was a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in the subjects eating fish and/or taking fish oil supplements, particularly in those on a low-fat diet.
Eric R. Braverman, M.D., Director of Place for Achieving Total Health (PATH), in New York City, treats hypertension with a program centered around diet and nutritional supplementation. Dr. Braverman’s diet is low in sodium, low in saturated fat, high in vegetables from the starch group, and high in protein (particularly fish). In addition, the diet features large amounts of fresh salad. Simple sugars, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and refined carbohydrates are reduced dramatically or eliminated altogether. His nutritional supplement program for a typical hypertensive patient includes fish oil, garlic, evening primrose oil, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin C, tryptophan, taurine, cysteine, and coenzyme Q10.
Studies have shown that nutritional supplementation, particularly with potassium, calcium, and magnesium, along with antioxidants and zinc, can help reduce high blood pressure.
Sodium and Potassium: In order to reduce blood pressure, sodium intake must be restricted while potassium intake is increased. Individuals with high blood pressure should be aware of “hidden” salt in processed foods. Although their salt intake is comparable, vegetarians generally have less hypertension and cardiovascular disease than non-vegetarians because their diet contains more potassium, complex carbohydrates, polyunsaturated fat, fiber, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A and C. Regular consumption of potassium-rich fruits such as avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, grapefruit, nectarines, oranges, and vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, green peas, potatoes, and squash can lower high blood pressure. Steaming rather than boiling vegetables helps prevent vital nutrient loss.
Calcium: Calcium has been shown to lower blood pressure in hypertensives. Because many with high blood pressure have a lower daily calcium intake than people with normal blood pressure, calcium-rich foods, including nuts and leafy green vegetables such as watercress and kale, should also supplement the diet. A recent analysis of the research on calcium and hypertension shows that either increasing calcium in the diet or using calcium supplements will usually have a positive effect on systolic blood pressure.
Magnesium: In one study, magnesium supplementation lowered blood pressure in 19 of 20 hypertensives. Dietary magnesium is found in nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans), rice, bananas, potatoes, wheat germ, kidney and lima beans, soy products, and molasses.
Antioxidants and Zinc: Research has found that antioxidants are linked to an increase in nitric oxide activity. Nitric oxide helps open blood vessels, which in turn may help lower blood pressure. Zinc may be helpful because it activates SOD (superoxide dismutase), an antioxidant enzyme. A study of 21 patients with hypertension found that daily supplementation with a combination of antioxidants and zinc (500 mg of vitamin C, 50,000 IU of beta carotene, 600 IU of vitamin E, and 80 mg of zinc) lowered blood pressure from 165/89 to 160/85.5 in eight weeks.
Other beneficial supplements include vitamins A, C, and E, niacin (vitamin B3), bioflavonoids, and the amino acid taurine.