Is your blood pressure creeping up? Before you commit to taking medication for the rest of your life, try these natural ways to reduce blood pressure. A few lifestyle and diet changes, including drinking my nitrate-rich blood pressure-reducing juice made with beetroot powder can make a world of difference.
And just in case you're not a fan of beets (although I think you should give this juice a try), you can also try this Sparkling Hibiscus Green Tea recipe. It's another tasty, natural way to reduce blood pressure. No promises, but between these two drinks and a few lifestyle changes, there's a good chance you might be able to keep your blood pressure down without medication.
Why Does High Blood Pressure Matter?
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new guidelines for when high blood pressure should be treated. There’s no more “prehypertension”. If your blood pressure is running over 130/80, you officially have high blood pressure.
I never gave much thought to my blood pressure. It’s always been spot on at 120/80 or a little bit lower (normal). But like the rest of the world, I’m getting a bit older, and I’ve been dealing with some stressful stuff in my life recently, and apparently, it’s starting to affect my blood pressure. Not quite enough to require medication, but I do need to keep an eye on it.
Needless to say, I’m pretty upset, because I’m one of those people who eats well, exercises most days, I'm not overweight, and I do all the right things to stay healthy. Unfortunately, I’m also very much of a “type A” personality, so I get stressed easily, and I let too many things bother me.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It's important to know your blood pressure because damage to your blood vessels occurs every time your pressure is elevated.
The new guidelines are meant to make people more aware of that earlier. It’s their hope that more awareness earlier can help prevent the damage that would occur if you waited for a later diagnosis.
What Increases Your Risk?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) these things increase your risk of developing high blood pressure:
- Age - blood pressure starts to increase in your mid to late 40s, and tends to increase as you get older
- Race – African Americans tend to develop high blood pressure more frequently than people of other racial backgrounds
- Family history
- For individuals who are under chronic stress – the long-term release of stress hormones can increase blood pressure
- An unhealthy diet – too many fast foods and processed foods contain lots of salt and unhealthy fats which contribute to high blood pressure
- Other health conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease – they’re all associated with an increased risk of hypertension
As a dietitian, I’m all about lifestyle changes first, and medication only if necessary. Like all meds, blood pressure medications come with their side effects, so it’s always worth it to work on diet, exercise, and stress management first. Even if you only get a partial benefit from these things, it may mean less medication or taking one with fewer side effects.
Lifestyle Changes That Help
There's no way to instantly drop your blood pressure. It takes time (at least a few weeks) and a series of lifestyle and diet changes. These are a few of my favorite recommendations:
- Try to eat 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. I know, that's a crazy large amount, but the research seriously supports this recommendation. It's part of the DASH Diet recommendations from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. DASH research shows that eating mainly lots of fruits and vegetables with a few servings of low-fat dairy foods and some lean protein each day reduces blood pressure as effectively as blood pressure medications. It's because the potassium in fruits and vegetables and the calcium in dairy foods naturally work against sodium to reduce blood pressure.
- The DASH diet doesn't mean you have to eat 10 salads each day! Just try to work small servings of fruits and veggies into the meals you're already eating. Check out this post for some tips on how to sneak more fruits and vegetables into your diet each day. A handful here. A handful there, and it all adds up.
- Watch your sodium. It causes you to retain more fluid in your blood vessels and that raises your blood pressure. But I don't think you need to rush out and buy all low-sodium foods. Just stop buying packaged foods because they're the biggest source of sodium in most people's diets. If you focus on whole foods and follow the DASH diet, you'll naturally be low in sodium. And don't forget that the potassium and calcium-rich DASH diet counteracts sodium. If you want to count, aim for less than 2,300 mg/day of sodium.
- You have to exercise most days of the week. I don't think I've ever met anyone who really loves to work out but think of it as an essential part of your day. Like showering or brushing your teeth. Your heart and blood vessels are all muscles, so you have to exercise them. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate cardio (like brisk walking, biking, dancing, or water aerobics) each day. I also find strength training to be very beneficial as you age. Everyone starts to lose muscle as they age, but the more muscle you can hold onto, the better your metabolism (and weight) will be. If you don't feel like working out, convince yourself to go for a 10-minute walk. Chances are, once you hit the 10-minute mark, you'll talk yourself into going longer.
- Cut back on alcohol, especially if you drink every day. I know experts say a drink a day is OK (or 2 drinks for men), but seriously guys, we can't handle it as we get older. It goes straight to your belly and increases cortisol, the fight or flight hormone. Alcohol really promotes weight gain as you age. Or it makes it nearly impossible to lose it. It also increases your blood pressure. It's totally fine to enjoy a drink or two occasionally but if it's a regular habit, try to cut it out and see what happens.
- Work on reducing stress. That's easier said for some of us than others. Personally, it's the thing I struggle with the most. Stress impacts your sleep, and poor sleep contributes to high blood pressure. Stress also raises cortisol. That fight or flight hormone raises your blood pressure because it's preparing you to fight — or run away from danger. I've found that yoga really helps me. Meditation is proven to help, but it's hard (for me at least)! I'm also a big believer in adaptogenic herbs (in pill form). These have been used for thousands of years in Eastern medicine and there's finally lots of good research to back up their benefits. Adaptogens help your body to become more resilient to physical and emotional stressors. My favorites are Ashwagandha or Holy Basil because they've been clinically shown to reduce feelings of stress AND lower cortisol levels.
- Eat or drink more beets. They're an excellent source of nitrates (not the bad kind in hot dogs or bacon). Nitrates in vegetables like beets actually relax your blood vessels and increase blood flow and oxygen throughout your body. There's great research on their benefits for athletes because, with more oxygen, you have better endurance. And for regular people like us, more relaxed blood vessels means lower blood pressure. Personally, I HATE beets because they taste like dirt. But I discovered beetroot powder. It's basically concentrated dried beets. When you mix a heaping tablespoon into vegetable or carrot juice and add a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a tiny bit of minced ginger (get the kind in the jar so you don't have to chop), it kind of tastes like a bloody Mary! Without the alcohol, of course. It's a delicious snack. Recently I had a glass before a doctor's appointment, and NO LIE - my blood pressure was 110/73.
Juice to Reduce Your Blood Pressure
I'm all about easy so there's NO JUICING (or cleaning out juice machines) involved here. Just keep a pack of beetroot powder in the pantry, some vegetable juice in the fridge, and a few pantry staples on hand.
Magic Blood Pressure Reducer Juice
- 1 tablespoon beetroot powder
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup carrot juice low sodium
- ½ cup tomato juice low sodium
- ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce or to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon celery seed
- ⅛ teaspoon ginger fresh minced or dried
- 1 ounce lime juice about ½ lime
- Combine the beetroot powder and water in a measuring cup and mix well
- Add the carrot juice, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, celery seed and ginger and mix well
- Add the lime juice, pour the mixture over a glass of ice and serve
Do you like beets? or do you think they taste like dirt?! Here's a link to another beetroot powder I like. They're all similar, but I do recommend one that's organic.
If you try this recipe, leave a comment below and let me know if you liked it - or tag me on Instagram @CravingSomethingHealthy or #CraveSomethingHealthy!