It is estimated that only 1 in 5 adults with hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, have it under control. If you’re someone with high blood pressure, there are likely things you can change in your diet to better control it. This article includes foods to avoid with high blood pressure. We’ll also include what to look for within these foods (it’s not just about sodium), plus alternatives and ideas for how to enjoy food.
Table of Contents
About High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is defined by the American Heart Association into multiple stages, similar to chronic kidney disease.
High blood pressure is also known as hypertension.
It is also one of the top causes of chronic kidney disease.
Below is a chart of blood pressure ranges.
Chart of Blood Pressure Ranges
|Blood Pressure Category||Systolic (mm Hg) – upper number||and/or||Diastolic (mm Hg) – lower number|
|Normal||Less than 120||and||Less than 80|
|Elevated||120 – 129||and||Less than 80|
|High Blood Pressure Stage 1||130 – 139||or||80 – 89|
|High Blood Pressure Stage 2||140 or higher||or||90 or higher|
|Hypertensive Crisis (consult your doctor immediately)||Higher than 180||and/or||Higher than 120|
One measurement of high blood pressure alone does not necessarily mean a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
A diagnosis of high blood pressure will come from your healthcare provider.
Speak with your healthcare provider regarding any concerns you may have about your blood pressure.
Proven Diets to Lower Blood Pressure
There are several diets that are proven to lower blood pressure. This is true about many aspects of food and diet.
There’s not just one way to improve your own diet and health goals.
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most studied diets.
The Mediterranean Diet can also help with sleep.
The Mediterranean Diet recommends every meal include;
- Breads & cereals
- Olive oil
Dairy can be included daily.
Weekly items of a Mediterranean Diet include;
- Fish/seafood (at least two servings weekly)
And foods to limit include;
- Red meat
Red wine is recommended in moderation, generally at social events
The DASH Diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and can reduce high blood pressure.
The DASH diet also reduces risk of developing high blood pressure.
The DASH diet consists of daily intakes of;
- Whole grains
- Meats, poultry, and fish
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy
- Fats & oils
Weekly foods include;
- Nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas
Low Sodium Diet
The general healthy eating guidelines from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
Part of treating high blood pressure can include following a low sodium diet.
This means limiting daily sodium to anywhere from 1,500 milligrams to just under 2,300 milligrams per day.
A low sodium diet focuses primarily on salt and sodium intake. Therefore, foods to include daily are;
- Whole grains
- Fats & oils
Other foods can include meats, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy products, so long as the daily total sodium intake is less than 2,300 milligrams sodium per day.
Foods to Avoid with High Blood Pressure
Let’s move into foods to avoid with high blood pressure.
Some of these may surprise you, but be sure to read the details about how you may be able to find healthier alternatives.
Bread & Bread Products
This may come as a surprise, given that bread doesn’t inherently taste salty.
However, bread is a source of hidden high sodium amounts. This is why it makes “The Salty Six” according to The American Heart Association.
Many bread and bread products, such as rolls, contain over 200 milligrams of sodium.
Given that a low sodium diet can be approximately 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day, that would mean just one slice of bread would take 10% of your daily sodium allowance.
Canned soups are another common source of high sodium foods.
Many canned soups are used as a convenient, prepackaged meal.
However, a regular can of soup typically contains two to three servings.
That means many are consuming two to three times the amount of sodium listed on the nutrition label.
Red meat is not always a high sodium food. However, it does typically have high amounts of saturated fat.
Saturated fat can increase blood pressure.
A study published in 2023 looked at diets of women. A high saturated fat diet was associated with high blood pressure.
Processed meats include deli and luncheon meats, sausages, bacon, and hot dogs.
There are several reasons why avoiding processed meat can help support healthy blood pressure.
As mentioned above, foods high in saturated fat can contribute to high blood pressure.
Poultry is often considered a healthy food. However, it can still cause high blood pressure.
As mentioned, the Mediterranean Diet has shown blood pressure improvements.
This diet recommends limiting poultry to 2 to 4 servings per week.
They also defines a serving size of meat, including chicken, be 60 grams. That is equivalent to about 2 ounces.
This can seem quite low compared to the average American consumption of chicken at 81 pounds per year.
That’s about 24 ounces every week on average, making it three times as high as Mediterranean Diet guidelines.
Meat substitutes include processed, prepackaged vegan options.
Examples include fake chicken patties or nuggets, ground beef alternatives, or fake ham foods.
The processing of these foods can include high amounts of sodium.
Frozen meals can be notoriously high in sodium. Marie Callendar’s ® Chicken Pot Pie, for example, has 650 milligrams of sodium in just a 1 cup serving.
Pizza is another food group that is commonly very high in sodium and saturated fat.
A slice of cheese pizza has approximately 640 milligrams of sodium and 4.7 grams of saturated fat.
You may have figured this would be on the list.
Given that both bread and processed meats are often individually high in sodium, sandwiches also can be very high in sodium and saturated fats.
Subway ® sandwiches, for example, can have a whopping 1,750 milligrams of sodium.. In just a six-inch sub.
Refined carbohydrates are carbohydrates that have been processed.
The processing will include removal of the whole grain, including fiber.
Examples of refined carbohydrates include;
- White bread
- White pasta
- White flour
- White rice
- Sweetened cereals
This is not to say these foods can never be eaten again.
However, reducing the frequency of them in a diet has been shown to help support healthy blood pressure.
Sugary Foods & Drinks
It is recommended that individuals with high blood pressure limit or avoid added sugar as much as possible.
The general healthy guidelines for added sugar is no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories per day for women. For men, it’s recommended to limit to 9 teaspoons or 150 calories per day of added sugar.
Pickled foods are often very high in sodium. Examples include;
If enjoying these foods, look for low sodium options and use sparingly.
Many canned foods contain excessive amounts of sodium.
This is not to say that all canned foods need to be avoided.
However, canned foods such as beans and vegetables may be high in sodium.
When possible, look for canned foods like these with a low sodium label.
Alternatively, drain and rinse canned foods well before using. Doing this can help reduce the sodium content.
Fast food is generally high in sodium and saturated fat. And unfortunately, fast food is generally foods to avoid with high blood pressure.
However, many fast food restaurants now offer healthier options. Take time to research your favorite restaurants to see what healthy options they have.
Additionally, many fast food restaurants are open to requests.
Ask them to hold the salt. Alternatively, request they remove some of the high salt ingredients like certain condiments or cheese.
You’ll be surprised to find that there can be healthy ways to include fast food every now and then.
Excessive alcohol has been shown to significantly increase systolic blood pressure.
Meanwhile, reducing alcohol has been shown to support a reduction in blood pressure.
General recommendations for alcohol consumption are one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Following the Mediterranean Diet guidelines of including red wine has shown some positive effects on blood pressure.
While nuts are recommended in healthy diets like the Mediterranean Diet and DASH diet, salted nuts may not.
This is because salted nuts can contain high amounts of sodium in small serving sizes.
A serving of nuts is one ounce and can have 116 milligrams of sodium.
While this is considered a low sodium food, many people struggle with portion sizes of nuts.
Many individuals state they will eat “a handful” of nuts in a sitting.
However, this is a subjective amount and can vary drastically.
Better Food Choices to Support Healthy Blood Pressure
Now that we have covered the foods to avoid with high blood pressure, let’s discuss alternatives you can add to your diet.
Low Sodium Breads
While many breads can be high in sodium, there are also low sodium breads available.
Some examples of low sodium breads include;
- Ezekiel 4:9® Low Sodium Sprouted Whole Grain Bread
- Dave’s Killer Bread® Powerseed Thin-Sliced
- Sara Lee® Delightful White
Low Sodium Canned Soups
There are more and more low sodium canned soup options available in grocery stores.
Another option is to “dilute” a canned soup by adding no-added-salt stock bases.
Learn more about healthy soup options here.
Better Meat Options
Try swapping out red meat for lean meat.
Fish has been shown to support healthy blood pressure as part of the Mediterranean Diet.
Alternatively, red meat can also be swapped for plant-based alternatives such as lentils and seitan.
Swap Poultry for Tofu or Beans
Chicken or other poultry products can be swapped out with plant-based tofu.
Alternatively, using lentils or chickpeas in casserole dishes, tacos, or other recipes with diced chicken may also work.
Better Meat Substitutes
Try using tofu and tempeh instead of purchasing the processed and prepackaged options.
While both are still considered processed foods, the processing is very little compared to the ultra processed meat substitutes.
They are also much lower in sodium.
Both can be marinated and take on other flavors used in cooking, like garlic, lemon, and a variety of vinegars.
Better Frozen Meal Options
Just like other prepared foods, there are lower sodium options available.
Spend some time in the frozen section reading labels. Aim to find a meal-sized frozen dish that has less than 600 milligrams of sodium per meal.
How to Keep Pizza
Pizza doesn’t have to completely be off the table.
In fact, there are pizzas that can be included in a healthy diet.
Similar to label reading, take some time to look at the nutrition information of your favorite pizza place.
Many have all the nutrition information online.
Some even have labels or “flags” to identify healthier options.
Don’t forget to add more volume to a pizza meal by adding a side salad or other veggie-rich dish.
Build a Better Sandwich
As mentioned earlier, start with low sodium bread.
Build a solid sandwich with low sodium condiments, and pile on the fresh veggies.
Go light on the meat and cheese to limit the sodium and saturated fats.
Add more flavor with pepper and vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon or lime.
Choose Whole Grains
Fiber has also been shown to improve blood pressure.
It can be easier to reach the daily fiber goal of at least 25 grams by including whole grains and limiting refined grains.
Yes, nuts can definitely be a part of a healthy diet.
They have plant protein, and are rich in many micronutrients like potassium, fiber, and magnesium.
Stick to unsalted versions of nuts and measure out appropriate portions to enjoy and keep a healthy blood pressure.
While there are many foods to avoid with high blood pressure, there are also healthier alternatives to include.
Looking for low sodium options for foods like breads, soups, frozen meals, and sandwiches can be a great way to lower the amount of sodium in your diet.
Rinsing canned vegetables and beans can further lower their sodium content and make them a great option and a budget-friendly ingredient.
Pizza and fast food are typically very high in both sodium and saturated fat. However, more and more restaurants are offering healthier options and ways to enjoy going out while reducing sodium and fat intakes.
When looking at packaged foods like nuts and canned foods, seek out options with no-added salt.
Which of these foods were most surprising to you? What ways will you change your diet to improve your blood pressure?
Jen Hernandez is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in renal nutrition. She has nearly a decade of experience with kidney disease patients in all stages - from stage 1 through kidney transplant. Jen writes on the blog of Plant-Powered Kidneys to help reach and teach more kidney patients about how they can enjoy more foods in a plant-based diet while protecting kidney health.