Nutrition is one of the key, if not most important, areas to address in order to successfully manage high blood pressure, cholesterol and to maintain overall heart health. Here are some of the best whole foods that can improve these health metrics through a nourishing lifestyle.
It used to be thought that lowering sodium intake was the most important dietary change we could make to help improve blood pressure. However, we now know that there are a few other minerals that play a huge role in blood pressure control.
These minerals are calcium, magnesium and potassium, which help to lower blood pressure by promoting sodium and fluid release from the body, as well as by helping arteries dilate, relax and become more flexible.
Here's how you can incorporate more of these essential nutrients into your diet:
Calcium: One of the best ways to get more calcium is to drink fat-free or low-fat milk and consume other dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese. However, if you are lactose intolerant or dislike dairy, there are other good options. Canned sardines (with bones), cabbage and broccoli are other ways you can include more calcium in your diet.
Magnesium: Good sources of this mineral include spinach, Swiss chard, high-fiber cereal, lentils and whole-grain products. Other magnesium-rich foods include almonds, cashews, mixed nuts, soybeans, legumes, halibut and oatmeal.
Potassium: Almost all fruits and vegetables have potassium, so load up on 3-4 cups of fruits and veggies daily. Particularly great sources of potassium are bananas, melons, oranges, potatoes, and tomatoes. Other good ways to get potassium include beans and peas, spinach, milk, yogurt and fish.
In addition to the three minerals above, dark chocolate (70% or more) and soy both contain flavonols that have been shown to improve blood pressure. So go ahead, indulge a little bit in that chocolate and experiment with soy milk and tofu if you haven't already - they are delicious additions to a healthy diet!
Cholesterol levels are affected by inflammation and consumption of foods high in both cholesterol and saturated fat (which is mostly found in animal products and some tropical oils, like coconut).
Eating foods high in antioxidants is key because they help to decrease and mitigate inflammation - thus promoting healthy arteries and a healthy heart. Very high antioxidant foods like berries are an excellent way to increase your intake. Some great options include blueberries, blackberries, acai and goji berries. It's also crucial to consume unsaturated fats, in particular mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado and nuts, as these healthy fats have been shown to reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol levels.
One other key nutrient to help lower 'bad' cholesterol levels is fiber: it actually binds to cholesterol and helps to excrete it from the body! Great sources include fresh fruits and vegetables (tip: buy organic and eat with the skin on), as well as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, chia seeds, beans and legumes.
The original version of this article appeared on WellSeek.