For adults under 65, it's that upper number in your blood pressure reading that may be the best indicator of future heart problems or even premature death. A normal reading is around 120/80. If that first number is 140 or higher, you have reason for concern.
For those 65 and older, however, it's a trickier situation. Readings may vary more and doctors need to be careful in prescribing blood pressure medication for older patients.
One safe, effective way to decrease blood pressure for all age groups is to eat foods that work naturally to dilate blood vessels so the heart doesn't have to work so hard.
Eat more of these six fabulous foods for an easy, delicious way to help lower your blood pressure numbers.
1. Go blue!
Just one serving of blueberries a week can help cut your risk of high blood pressure. Blueberries, as well as raspberries and strawberries, contain natural compounds called anthocyanins that protect against hypertension, according to a recent British and American study of about 157,000 men and women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
2. Cereal thriller
Having a bowl of breakfast cereal, especially whole-grain, high-fiber cereals like oatmeal, oat squares, bran flakes or shredded wheat, can reduce your chance of developing high blood pressure, Harvard University researchers recently found. Plus, the more servings of cereal you eat a week, the greater the benefits. Add to that the recent research on blueberries, and you could double your health rewards by topping your cereal with berries.
3. One potato, two
Everyone loves a baked potato, right? But did you know that a baked potato is high in potassium and magnesium, two important minerals that can help fight high blood pressure? Research shows that if Americans boosted their potassium intake, adult cases of high blood pressure could fall by more than 10 percent. As for magnesium, many older Americans fail to get enough in their diet, according to the National Institutes of Health. So why not kill two birds with one food. In addition to baked potatoes, here are some other foods high in both these minerals: halibut, spinach, bananas, soybeans, kidney beans and plain nonfat yogurt.
4. The beet goes on
Drinking a glass of beet juice can lower blood pressure within just a few hours, according to a Queen Mary University of London study published last year in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. The nitrate in the juice has the same effect as taking a nitrate tablet, the researchers found. Beet juice can be found at some health food stores and specialty groceries such as Whole Foods. Other nitrate-rich foods include spinach, lettuce, cabbage, carrots and, of course, whole beets.
5. Got (skim) milk?
Eating low-fat dairy products can reduce a woman's risk of developing hypertension. That's the conclusion of a 2008 study of nearly 30,000 women with an average age of 54. The women who ate the most low-fat dairy products — yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, frozen yogurt, skim or low-fat milk — were 11 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure.
6. The dark side
Chocolate lovers rejoice! Eating a one-ounce square of dark chocolate daily can help lower blood pressure, especially in people who already have hypertension, according to Harvard researchers who analyzed 24 chocolate studies. Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, natural compounds that cause dilation of the blood vessels. Look for chocolates that say they contain 50 to 70 percent cacao, such as Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao dark chocolate squares.
Candy Sagon writes about health and nutrition for the AARP Bulletin.
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