By Melanie Haiken, Contributor
You’ve read about foods that burn fat, and foods to help you sleep. But when it comes to heart health, all we seem to hear about is what not to eat. (With red meat always topping the list.) There are some foods, however, that scientists say contribute to low blood pressure.
Some of the research is associative — i.e. people with low blood pressure are the same people who eat certain foods — because it’s extremely difficult to document and prove causation when it comes to diet and health conditions. Other studies focus on a nutrient known to have specific properties, then recommend foods containing that nutrient.
Either way, who better to take dietary tips from than those who’ve managed to keep their blood pressure low? Here are specific foods that research recommends to lower blood pressure.
1. Non-fat Yogurt
This one’s a myth-buster, because “dairy” is often lumped in with other sources of saturated fat in heart health nutrition recommendations. But actually, it turns out non-fat yogurt is good for your heart, unlike cheese and many other higher fat dairy products. (And don’t forget that non-fat Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt, an added benefit.)
Research presented at the High Blood Pressure Research 2012 Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association (AHA) found that people who ate more non-fat yogurt were 31 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than others. The study included upwards of 2,000 adults, who were tracked for 14 years. The 31-percent reduction was found in people for whom non-fat yogurt made up 2 percent or more of their daily calories.
2. Sunflower Seeds
All nuts and legumes are heart-healthy, but sunflower seeds seem to be in a class of their own when it comes to blood pressure. They’re extremely high in vitamin E – just a handful and you’ve consumed 75 percent of your daily intake. They’re also rich in folic acid and protein and are a good source of fiber. Beware, though; the typical prepackaged snack pack of sunflower seeds is super salty, and sodium has the opposite effect on blood pressure. Only unsalted seeds will do in this case.
Experts don’t know exactly how sunflower seeds lower blood pressure, but Spanish researchers conducted an experiment in which they discovered that during digestion, sunflower seeds release a peptide that inhibits the body’s production of an enzyme that’s known to raise blood pressure.
Two bananas a day (or even one and a half) could keep the cardiologist at bay. That’s because bananas are among the most potassium-rich foods, and the amount of potassium in 1.5 to 2 bananas has been shown to drop blood pressure by 2 to 3 points, according to one report. Potassium boosts kidney function, helping them flush sodium out of the body. Potassium also helps artery walls relax. If you don’t like bananas, raisins, prunes and watermelon are good sources of potassium, too.
Four more foods that have been found to lower blood pressure:
- Potatoes (specifically purple potatoes, according to one small study) contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation
- Spinach – Swedish research credits the nitrates in Spinach for lowering blood pressure
- Oats – Quaker Oats provided funding for this study, but there’s no question high-fiber oats are heart-healthy
- Beets – the University of Reading research was done on beet juice, but it’s the phytochemicals that give beets their red color that count
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.