We know. We’re sorry. We hate being the bearers of bad news. Put pizza is often not going to be your best friend if you have high blood pressure. A huge part of what makes pizza so delicious is the cheese and the sauce, both of which can often be loaded with sodium, according to Livestrong. So if you’re eating out at a chain restaurant, a simple cheese pizza can contain anywhere between 400 to 900 milligrams of sodium per slice; start adding salty cured meats like pepperoni, and this can skyrocket to over 1,000 milligrams per slice.
This sodium can wreak havoc on your blood pressure by causing our bodies to hold on to extra water, causing blood pressure to rise, and creating extra stress on our blood vessels and heart, states the Cleveland Clinic. And, if you’re thinking “Fine, I’ll just eat in,” frozen pizza’s not really any better. One serving of DiGiorno’s frozen pizza can deliver a whopping 840 milligrams of sodium, as well as high levels of saturated fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, according to Eat This, Not That!. It’s important to remember that even if you’re trying to control your blood pressure (ideally by consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, per the American Heart Association, you can still treat yourself to a slice now and again. Just make sure you’re planning for the sodium you’re consuming.
Eat: Extra-virgin olive oil
If you could distill pure goodness into a liquid, it’d probably look a little like olive oil. A mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil’s monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy and can help to reduce blood clotting, as well as the risk of heart disease and stroke. For the cream of the health crop, extra-virgin olive oil is the top choice, not least for its effects on blood pressure.
A study published in Archives of Internal Medicine (via WebMD) looked at the effects of substituting extra-virgin olive oil for other types of fat on the blood pressure of those taking medication for hypertension, and found that it had an excellent impact. “The most important finding in this study is that the daily use of olive oil, about 40 grams per day, markedly reduces the dosage of [blood pressure medication] by about 50% in hypertensive patients on a previously stable drug dosage,” said the study’s lead author, L. Aldo Ferrara, University of Naples Federico II’s associate professor of internal medicine. Ferrara and his fellow study authors think this effect might be down to olive oil’s high polyphenol content, although more research may be needed to corroborate this.
Fats are, for better or worse, not created equal. While monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) may contribute to a lowering of blood pressure, other fats may not be as beneficial in this respect. Butter is one of these. While saturated fats like butter may not necessarily cause high blood pressure in and of themselves, they can cause a raising of blood cholesterol and, specifically, of ‘bad’ HDL cholesterol, which can clog your arteries and cause further complications if you have high blood pressure already, says Blood Pressure UK.
For this reason, eating saturated fats, such as those found in butter, in high quantities is best avoided if you have high blood pressure, and will help you control your blood pressure in the long run. The same goes for saturated fats that are found in other dairy products, like cream and cheese. Instead, choosing unsaturated fats, like those found in avocados, oily fish, and olive oil, can help you to regulate your blood pressure. It’s important to remember that not all cholesterol is bad. Some ‘good’ LDL cholesterol, like those found in unsaturated fats, is essential for your blood to function properly.
Eat: Fruit salad
If you’re a fan of fruit salad, you’re in luck: those with high blood pressure can feasibly include this as part of their diet. In particular, fruit salads that contain potassium-rich fruits like bananas, grapefruit, apricot, and melon are all fantastic choices if you’re trying to keep your blood pressure controlled or lower it, as the American Heart Association states. This is due to potassium’s effects on sodium. Eating more potassium means you lose more sodium through your urine, which then means it has less of an effect on your blood pressure. It also helps to make your blood vessel walls less tense, to which sodium can contribute, again helping to keep blood pressure lower.
If you want to maximize your fruit salad’s effect on your blood pressure, try pairing it with orange juice. A study published in the journal ARYA Therosclerosis looked at the effects of drinking orange juice on blood pressure and, interestingly, found that commercial orange juice (the kind you get in a carton) significantly reduces blood pressure. This could be due to the higher levels of flavonoids and pectin found in commercial orange juice products.
Avoid: Bottled salad dressings
A healthy salad, packed full of vegetables, will do your blood pressure nothing but good — until you pour the wrong salad dressing on it. While you may not think so (because they go on, well, salad), bottled salad dressings can be surprisingly unhealthy due to the high levels of sodium (and sugar) present in some products, which can wreak havoc on your blood pressure. This is particularly the case with low-fat or low-cal dressings, which add huge amounts of sodium to boost flavor. Girard’s Champagne 60-Calorie Vinaigrette, for example, may be low in calories, but contains 440 milligrams of sodium per serving — nearly a quarter of your daily intake, says Eat This, Not That!.
Marzetti Fat-Free Sweet & Sour Dressing, similarly, is branded as fat-free, but contains not only 300 milligrams of sodium per serving, but also 10 grams of sugar. Sugar can play a powerful role in keeping blood pressure high, by stopping nitric oxide production, which is vital in keeping blood vessels dilated and blood pressure controlled, as Verywell Health states. Instead of reaching for unhealthy (and pricey!) salad dressings on the shelves, you can whip up a simple vinaigrette in no time.