High blood pressure is a health condition that makes it difficult for our hearts to pump oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout our bodies and to our most vital organs. Overtime, the walls of our arteries stiffen as a result of hypertension, forcing our hearts to work overtime at exhaustive rates. Eventually, the pressure of our stiff arteries forces our hearts to grow larger in size and makes them unable to pump blood at the rate they once could. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke, and one of the major risk factors for heart disease, which is why maintaining a healthy blood pressure is a crucial aspect to maintaining an overall, healthy life.
Although high blood pressure can be genetic, there are many lifestyle factors that can also cause it, such as smoking, diet and exercise. Two of these factors have simple, straight forward solutions. Smoker? Speak with your doctor and take your first step towards quitting. Don’t Exercise? Invest in a gym membership and speak with your doctor to develop a workout plan. One’s diet is where things become more complicated.
For so many years we have known that lowering our sodium intake helps us lower and maintain our blood pressure. The Heart and Stroke Foundation includes their very own dietary guideline, which they refer to as the ‘DASH Diet’, a diet that advises Canadians to control their salt intake and increase their physical activity. The DASH diet is a balanced diet of whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, that is rich in fruits and vegetables.
Despite the long-term focus on lowering sodium intake in order to lower blood pressure, there is another part of the DASH diet that plays an equally important role in lowering blood pressure. Once again, this is not to disregard the ways that lowering sodium intake aids in relieving hypertension, but instead, to acknowledge another important factor of this diet that has not been given as much attention.
A recent study conducted at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, increasing your dietary potassium intake can have equally as beneficial effects on lowering blood pressure. Dr. Alicia McDonough, professor of cell and neurobiology, explains that when you increase your dietary potassium, your kidneys excrete more salt and more water, which encourages potassium excretion.
This aids in maintaining healthy blood pressure because when we do not consume enough potassium, our bodies begin to hold onto the sodium we consume in order to compensate for the lack of potassium. Dr. McDonough compares eating a diet rich in potassium to taking a diuretic, as the potassium-rich foods help flush our bodies of any excess sodium we may hold onto, and in turn helps to regulate our blood pressure.
The typical Western diet, according to McDonough, severely lacks potassium and has normalized a significantly high daily sodium intake. We must step away from the sodium-rich processed foods that are causing us hypertension, and instead increase our consumption of fresh, potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. McDonough recommends a grand total of 4.7 grams of potassium everyday to lower our blood pressure and ease the effects of dietary sodium. A low potassium diet can put us at just as much of a risk of developing high blood pressure as a high sodium diet can, which is why it is crucial that we are incorporating these 5, potassium-rich foods into our diets every day:
Avocado’s are a delicious superfood food that your heart will thank you for. They are packed with all of the right fats, while remaining sodium, sugar and cholesterol free. Not only do their high levels of mono and polyunsaturated fats help reduce the risk of heart disease, but the abundance of potassium makes avocados a fruit you should be eating every day. A medium sized avocado provides you with about 750mg of the recommended 4.7 grams of daily potassium.
Incorporating these root vegetables into your diet is a great way to reduce your risk of hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Sweet potatoes are a nutrient-dense, complex carbohydrate that provide 12% of our daily recommended potassium intake, and over 400% of our vitamin A requirement. Be sure to always leave the skin on!
These dark, leafy greens are packed with potassium, iron, calcium and vitamin A. One cup of raw spinach contains roughly 167 mg of potassium. This may not seem like much for an entire cup, but when it comes to spinach, vitamins and nutrients add up quickly because of how much the leaf cooks down when sautéed or steamed. 10 cups of raw spinach yields roughly 1 cup of cooked spinach, meaning one cup of cooked spinach provides you with 1,670mg of potassium.
Bananas are a fruit that are well-known for their high potassium levels. In a single, medium sized banana there is roughly 422mg of potassium and absolutely no fats, cholesterol or sodium, making bananas a great food for maintaining a health heart.
McDonough recommends black beans as a great way to achieve the recommended daily potassium intake. In just ¾ cup of black beans, you are receiving almost 50% of your daily potassium, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risks of kidney stones and bone loss.