What is high blood pressure / hypertension?
'Blood pressure' is the force of blood pushing against the wall of arteries as the heart pumps blood. This requires the heart to work harder than normal to circulate blood through the blood vessels. If blood pressure remains high for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to serious health issues including coronary heart disease, heart failures, strokes and kidney failures.
Blood pressure is measured as systolic (pressure when heart is pumping) and diastolic (pressure when heart is between beats) pressures. Blood pressure numbers are typically written as systolic pressure / diastolic pressure – such as 120 / 80 mmHg. Normal blood pressure has a reading below 120 / 80 mmHg, while high blood pressure starts as readings rise above 140 mmHG (systolic) and 90 mmHG (diastolic).
Blood pressure and diet
Blood pressure is closely linked to salt (sodium in the salt) intake. Higher levels of sodium in the body are closely linked to high blood pressure, and it is recommended to keep sodium levels of below 2300 mg a day. Meat & dairy products are generally high in sodium (especially cured meats, pork, cheese), while vegetarian products generally have a much lower sodium content.
Potassium is known to be able to counter the effects of sodium in the body. It is recommended to consume an average of about 4700 mg per day. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of potassium and can help counter the effects of sodium for people with high blood pressure. Examples of potassium rich foods include: potatoes, bananas, spinach, peas, tomatoes, oranges and apricots.
Scientific evidence: Hypertension and diet
Research that has been conducted on the linkage between meat, dairy and hypertension have found
- significantly higher risks of hypertension for consumers of meat & dairy products
- vegetarians have lower blood pressure than non-vegetarians
- significant reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol levels, post conversion to a vegetarian diet
- that a vegetarian diet is as effective as lovastatin in combating cholesterol
Details of the same (including the research methodology, key findings and a link to the original study) are available in the resource tab below.