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9 Best Foods for High Blood Pressure (Plus 8 of the Worst)

Help control your BP numbers by watching what’s on your plate

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Nearly half of all adults — about 48 percent — have high blood pressure, defined as anything greater than 130/80 mm Hg, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That share rises with age, to about 70 percent of adults 65 and older. But one of the most straightforward ways to help get your blood pressure under control is to watch what you put on your plate, advises Luke Laffin, M.D., codirector of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic.

One option to is to adopt the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is rich in fruits, veggies, lean meats, nuts, seeds, whole grains and low-fat dairy. A review of 30 randomized, controlled trials published in 2020 in the journal Advances in Nutrition concluded that people who adopted the DASH diet saw significant reductions in their blood pressure, even if they didn’t have high blood pressure, compared with control groups. Earlier research found that following the low-sodium DASH diet reduced blood pressure by about 11 points in those with high blood pressure. “It’s equivalent to taking one or two blood pressure medications,” Laffin points out.

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And a little salt reduction goes a long way. One recent study found that cutting just a teaspoon of salt over a week lowered blood pressure by around 6 mm Hg, about the reduction many people see when they take a common high blood pressure medication.

To get control of blood pressure, it’s best to concentrate on an overall healthy diet, rather than focus on one food in particular. “All these nutrients work synergistically together,” explains Maya Vadiveloo, associate professor of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Rhode Island and chair-elect of the nutrition committee at the American Heart Association. “Foods like fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy are rich in micronutrients that work together to regulate blood pressure.” They also replace more harmful foods that can elevate blood pressure, like salty snacks.

But some specific foods are good to include in your diet because they are rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure. Here are the top foods to eat — and those to avoid.

9 great foods for controlling high blood pressure

1. Bananas

These are rich in potassium, a nutrient shown to help lower blood pressure, says Laffin. One medium banana provides about 375 milligrams of potassium, contributing 11 percent of the recommended daily intake for a man and 16 percent for a woman. The only caveat is if you have late-stage kidney disease, notes Laffin; you’ll need to be careful with potassium consumption so check with your doctor before loading up on bananas.

2. Blueberries

These contain resveratrol, a substance that helps relax blood vessels, says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., a cardiologist and medical director for Atria New York City and host of the Beyond the Heart podcast. They’re also rich in anthocyanins, a group of plant pigments that promote heart health. A study published in 2019 in The Journals of Gerontology found that people who drank a wild blueberry beverage daily for 28 days saw a 5 mm Hg drop in blood pressure. An added bonus: Blueberries seem to be especially good for the brain, according to research from Rush University.

3. Spices

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will tell you to avoid the saltshaker. Season your food with spices instead. A study published in 2021 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that seasoning foods with 6.6 grams of herbs and spices a day was linked with lower blood pressure after just four weeks. The study looked at a blend of 24 herbs and spices, including basil, thyme, cinnamon and turmeric. “What was interesting is that we didn’t even decrease sodium at all — the herbs and spices decreased blood pressure independently,” says study coauthor Penny Kris-Etherton, Evan Pugh University Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University.

4. Dark chocolate

It’s rich in the flavonoid cacao, an antioxidant that dilates blood vessels and thus lowers blood pressure, points out Kris-Etherton. Look for a bar that contains 70 to 85 percent cacao, according to the American Heart Association, since that indicates it’s richer in flavonoids. A review of 35 clinical trials published in 2017 in the Cochrane Library found that regular consumption of cocoa lowered blood pressure by about 4 points in people who already had high blood pressure. “You just need to be careful, because if you eat too much, you’ll gain weight,” says Kris-Etherton. And excess weight is associated with higher blood pressure.

5. Nuts

They’re rich in magnesium and potassium, two minerals that have been shown to reduce blood pressure, says Vadiveloo. “They’re also rich in fiber and healthy fat, which helps with cholesterol regulation, which in turn improves arterial health and thus reduces blood pressure,” she explains. A study published in 2019 in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that participants who replaced 5 percent of the saturated fat in their diet with walnuts saw a decrease in blood pressure over six weeks. Munch on unsalted nuts, advises Vadiveloo, or stick to nut butters, which are lower in sodium.


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6. Yogurt

Eating yogurt regularly may lower blood pressure by about 7 points, according to a study published in 2021 in the International Dairy Journal. “Dairy is a good source of nutrients such as calcium, potassium and magnesium,” says Kris-Etherton. All of these have been shown to help lower blood pressure. Many yogurts are also rich in probiotics, good bacteria that may help control blood pressure. A review published in 2014 in the journal Hypertension concluded that regular probiotic consumption reduced systolic blood pressure (the first number) by nearly 3.6 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the second number) by about 2.4 mm Hg. Full-fat yogurt is fine if you prefer the taste: Research suggests it won’t raise your blood pressure any more than a low-fat or no-fat version.

7. Beets

A Danish study published in 2021 in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that people who consumed the highest amounts of nitrate-rich veggies such as beets and leafy greens had systolic blood pressure that was nearly 2.6 points lower on average than those who got the least amounts of these foods.

8. Fatty fish

Fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. But they may also help improve blood pressure through indirect means, says Vadiveloo. “If you eat fish instead of animal protein high in saturated fat, like red meat, processed meat or full-fat dairy, then it can favorably affect your blood pressure as well,” she explains. A study published in 2022 in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who consumed 2 to 3 grams of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA reduced their blood pressure by about 2 points compared with those who didn’t.

9. Whole grains

“They are a rich source of magnesium, especially when compared to white bread,” says Vadiveloo. A Japanese study published in 2020 in the journal Nutrients found that people who frequently consumed whole grains were about 60 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure over three years than those who didn’t eat them.

8 foods to avoid for high blood pressure 

1. Restaurant food

About 70 percent of the sodium we eat comes from either packaged or restaurant food, according to the CDC. “I just saw a patient whose blood pressures were high on days where he noted he either went to a restaurant or ordered takeout like Chinese food,” Goldberg says. The best step is to limit eating out as much as possible, and if you do, ask to see the nutrition content, including sodium.

You can also ask that no salt be added to your meal. “You might want to just order sauce on the side to lower the salt content,” advises Goldberg. And look for entrées that are steamed, baked, grilled, poached or roasted: These tend to be prepared in ways that have less sodium.

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2. Cheese

It might seem like a healthy snack, given that it’s rich in blood-pressure-reducing calcium, but many types of cheese are loaded with salt, says Kris-Etherton. She recommends that you stick to a low-sodium cheese such as Swiss or fresh mozzarella. It’s fine to indulge if you don’t already have high blood pressure.

3. Condiments

Ketchup, soy sauce, bottled salad dressing, jarred salsas and mustard can be high in sodium. Look for reduced-sodium versions or opt for lemon juice or vinegar for added flavor, advises Laffin.

4. Canned beans (unrinsed)

While beans themselves are heart-healthy and can help reduce blood pressure, the canned versions are usually loaded with salt. You can still eat canned beans, but reduce the sodium by rinsing them for about 10 seconds under lukewarm water and then draining them for about 2 minutes. You’ll cut the sodium by up to 40 percent but not the other heart-healthy vitamins and minerals.

5. Baked goods

Bread and rolls are number 1 on the list of the top sources of sodium, according to the CDC. A slice of bread typically has only 100 to 200 mg of sodium, but if you eat a lot of bread (which many of us do), it can add up. Try to avoid baked goods as much as possible. For example, choose oatmeal instead of toast for breakfast, and skip the rolls at dinner; opt for brown rice or quinoa.

6. Black licorice

Real black licorice — not licorice-flavored candy— can cause blood pressure to spike. Derived from licorice root, the treat contains glycyrrhizin, which can cause the body to retain water and sodium, which in turn raises blood pressure. 

Eaten in large amounts, black licorice can lower potassium levels in the body. Low potassium levels can cause abnormal heart rhythms and congestive heart failure. A twist or two occasionally isn’t a problem, says the American Heart Association, but you should be aware of the dangers of eating too much.

7. Alcohol

A study of more than 17,000 American adults published in 2019 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that moderate alcohol consumption — defined as seven to 13 drinks per week — more than doubled the risk of developing high blood pressure. “Alcohol is toxic to the heart and can weaken its muscles,” explains Goldberg. It can also raise your blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. 

8. Deli sandwiches

Fan of the classic deli sandwich? You’ll want to limit your intake if you have high blood pressure. Cold cuts and cured meats make the CDC’s list of foods highest in sodium, and a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a higher intake of processed meats — bacon, hot dogs and deli meat, for example — was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cheese, a common sandwich ingredient, is also on the CDC’s high-sodium list, as is bread. The American Heart Association recommends minimizing processed meats from the deli counter and instead slicing up leftover chicken or turkey for sandwiches.

Editor’s note: This story, first published Jan. 24, 2023, has been updated to include new information.

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