What you eat affects your blood pressure
The last thing you’re probably thinking about as you dig into a delicious meal is how it will impact your blood vessels—but it’s an important consideration. More than 90 percent of us will develop high blood pressure (hypertension) during an average lifespan—one-quarter of us already have it—yet smart food choices can help prevent and treat the condition, says Dr. Sheldon Tobe, a nephrologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto and a researcher for the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation. Ask your doctor whether you’re at risk; left untreated, high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Eat more: “Whole”-some carbs
You know that oatmeal, bran and brown rice do your body good for many reasons. Now it turns out that the fibre in these whole grains helps protect against hypertension too, says Dr. Lu Wang of Harvard University. She studied more than 28,000 women and found that eating two to three servings of whole grains daily, over a 10-year period, dropped participants’ high blood pressure risk by up to 11 percent.
Search for the words “whole grain” on the ingredient lists for breads and pastas. “Whole wheat” does not provide the same fibre-rich benefit.
Eat more: Dark chocolate (daily!)
Disease-fighting antioxidant compounds in cocoa also help regulate blood flow, researchers believe. Previous studies have indicated that high doses of cocoa can reduce blood pressure and boost mood in the short term. Yet a mere 6.3 grams of dark chocolate (just 30 calories) daily over a 4 1/2-month period was enough to reduce hypertension by 21 percent, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association study.
Watch your portions
Have just a small square of dark chocolate: It’s still high in calories and fat. Look for chocolate with 70 percent cocoa or higher; 99 percent offers maximum antioxidants.