In addition to its other health benefits, you might be able to lower your blood pressure a bit by following a vegetarian diet. That news follows an analysis of 39 studies by Japanese researchers looking at blood pressure measurements of vegetarians v. meat eaters. Overall, blood pressure among the vegetarians was “significantly lower” than that of those who eat meat. Investigators reported that the difference between people on vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets averaged five to seven millimeters of mercury - usually rendered as mm/Hg - for systolic blood pressure (the top number) and two to five mm/Hg for the diastolic (bottom) number. The researchers concluded that even these modest drops in blood pressure could reduce the risk of heart attack by nine percent and the risk of stroke by 14 percent if sustained over time. The Japanese study team noted that no differences were seen between the various sub-types of vegetarian diets – whether vegan or diets that allowed dairy products and eggs or even those that also allow fish. The study didn’t identify specific foods or nutrients in the diets that could be responsible for the lower blood pressure seen, but noted that vegetarian diets in general tend to be lower in sodium and higher in potassium and plant proteins.
My take? I’m not surprised that this review found that a vegetarian diet seems to help reduce high blood pressure. The DASH diet, which I recommend for people with hypertension, is heavy on vegetables and fruit and very light on meat. To help keep blood pressure in the normal range I suggest eating eight to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day, and limiting animal protein. For those who are salt sensitive or have a family history of hypertension, cutting salt consumption to about one teaspoon a day may help control your blood pressure. Incorporating garlic in your diet may be beneficial as well, since it has a modest effect on blood pressure, potentially helping to relax blood vessels. I also suggest consuming four to five servings of nuts, seeds and dry beans per week (the equivalent to two tablespoons of nuts or seeds, or 1/2 cup cooked dried beans). Include at least three servings of fish a week, emphasizing cold-water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Consider fish-oil supplements if you cannot get enough omega-3-rich foods. I also suggest taking calcium and magnesium since inadequate intake of both has been associated with high blood pressure. Women should get between 1,000 and 1,200 mg of calcium a day from all sources, while men need no more than 500-600 mg daily from all sources and probably do not need to supplement. In addition, take vitamin C, which has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension.
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Yoko Yokoyama et al, “Vegetarian Diets and Blood Pressure: A Meta-analysis,” JAMA Internal Medicine, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.14547