17 foods that lower blood pressure: Heart-healthy nuts, seeds, grains you need to know

Editor: John Ajayi, B.Sc, MBA
Medical review: Moyo Adeyemi, M.B., B.S., FRCPC
Science Editor: Sunday O. Ajayi, Ph.D
Nuts and seeds are foods that lower blood pressure. Pic credit: Pixabay

This article provides a list of healthful foods that lower blood pressure you may include in your diet plan based on DASH guidelines. The list includes nuts, seeds, cereal grains, low-fat dairy, and animal food products that recent scientific research studies have proved effective for managing blood pressure.

In a previous article, we listed 21 foods (fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, teas, and herbal teas) that lower blood pressure. We discussed the official clinical guidelines for diagnosing and treating high blood pressure and offered an overview of lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend to control your blood pressure.

Doctors focus on treating high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) because it is a major risk factor for stroke, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and renal failure. Individuals with prehypertension (systolic BP ≥120mmHg and ≤139mmHg or diastolic BP ≥ 80mmHg and ≤ 89 mmHg) are also at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and related health complications.

Even if your doctor prescribes medication to lower your blood pressure, you still need to adopt lifestyle changes that include a healthful diet plan either as an adjunct to drug therapy or alone. Knowing the right foods to include in your diet and those to exclude will help you plan to manage your blood pressure in the short and long term.

What is DASH?

DASH diet recommendations offer helpful guidelines if you are trying to prevent or control high blood pressure.

DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is one of the most widely recommended dietary protocols, alongside the Mediterranean Diet, for managing high blood pressure.

There are many variations of DASH, but those that prescribe a diet low in sodium, saturated fats, and sugars but high in fiber, vitamins (such as B12), minerals (such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and blood-forming iron) have proved effective for lowering blood pressure.

Besides helping to lower blood pressure, diets based on DASH recommendations also help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol levels while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) “good” cholesterol levels.

Foods that lower blood pressure: How DASH diets work

The goals of the DASH recommendations may be achieved by substituting processed foods high in salt, sugars, and unhealthy saturated fats, with healthy foods low in total fats but relatively high in healthy unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins (Tyson et al.).

Health-promoting foods that may play a role in DASH diets include fruits, green leafy vegetables, unsalted nuts and seeds, whole grains, and cereals.

DASH diet guidelines also recommend limiting consumption of animal foods to lean meat cuts, skinless poultry, low-fat dairy products, and seafood rich in the long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC n-3 PUFA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA have cardioprotective properties.

A clinical trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of DASH diet reported that it significantly decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) compared with control subjects (Feyh et al; Appel et al.)

17 foods that lower blood pressure

Contents:

Fatty or oily fish and seafood

Low-fat yogurt and dairy products

Full-fat yogurt and dairy products

Pistachios

Chia seeds

Flax seeds

Sunflower seeds

Whole oat cereals

Lentils

Green peas

Kidney beans

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

Peanuts

Cocoa and dark chocolate

Extra-virgin olive oil

Pumpkin seed oil

Black seed oil

1. Fatty or oily fish and seafood

Eating tuna fish may lower blood pressure. Pic credit: Pixabay

Fatty or oily fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, herring, anchovies, swordfish, mackerel, cod, and halibut, are an excellent source of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC n-3 PUFA) — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — also known as omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids-rich fish and seafood have been shown to have blood pressure-lowering and cardioprotective properties. They aid in the prevention of arteriosclerotic, thrombotic disease (Hosomi et al.), and cardiac arrhythmias (Kris-Etherton et al.). Omega-3 fatty acids decrease triglyceride levels, prevent plaques that build up and block the arteries (a feature of coronary heart disease).

Brutto et al. reported an inverse relationship between oily fish consumption and systolic blood pressure (oily fish consumption was associated with lower systolic BP). But they concluded that current official recommendations of an intake of 1-2 servings of oily fish a week may not be adequate to get the full benefits of the blood pressure-lowering effects of oily fish.

Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, was associated with a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressures in normotensive and untreated hypertensive subjects, Miller et al. also reported.

Schmocker et al. suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce blood vessel inflammation and lower blood pressure by promoting the synthesis of certain oxylipins known to have anti-inflammatory or anti-arrhythmic activity.

High omega-3 fatty acid intake was associated with significantly lower systolic and diastolic BP in both young and healthy normotensive subjects, according to Filipovic et al.

Xun et al. also reported that intake of omega-3 PUFAs was inversely associated with the incidence of hypertension. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-neuroinflammatory properties mediated by bioactive oxylipins derived from DHA and EPA (Devassy et al.).

Besides lowering blood pressure, oily fish and seafood are rich in essential minerals, such as iodine. Studies also suggest that oily fish may help prevent breast and colon cancer (Schmoker et al.) and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by preventing insulin resistance.

2. Low-fat yogurt and dairy products

Yogurts may help lower blood pressure. Pic credit: RitaE/Pixabay

Yogurt is made from milk fermented by bacteria, such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Bacteria convert lactose sugar in milk to lactic acid which imparts a sour flavor and causes milk to thicken and curdle.

Studies suggest that yogurt lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A combination of DASH diets and low-fat dairy products have long-term benefits for blood pressure (McGrane et al.).

Aljuraiban et al. reported that consumption of low-fat dairy products may lower the risk of hypertension. Clinical trials indicate that dairy products, especially low-fat dairy products, have a beneficial effect on blood pressure (Soedamah-Muthu et al.).

A higher intake of dairy products, especially yogurt, was associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure in older men and women (Buendia et al.). According to the researchers, higher yogurt consumption was associated with a 16% lower risk of high blood pressure. The authors also reported that combining regular yogurt intake with DASH diet was associated with an even lower risk of high blood pressure (30%).

Wade et al. investigated the association between yogurt consumption and blood pressure in hypertensive and non-hypertensive subjects and concluded that habitual yogurt intake was associated with lower systolic blood pressure in hypertensive subjects. But they found no relationship between yogurt intake and systolic BP in non-hypertensive subjects.

Three daily servings of dairy products had beneficial effects on daytime systolic BP in male subjects with mild to moderate essential hypertension, according to Drouin-Chartier et al.

3. What about full-fat yogurt and dairy products?

Recent studies raised questions about the widely held view that full-fat dairy products, including yogurt, cheese, and milk, may increase cardiovascular risk due to their saturated fat content. Concerns that high-fat dairy products may increase cardiovascular risk led to dietitians recommending low-fat dairy products in place of full-fat products.

Astrup et al. argued that recommendations to restrict dietary intake of full-fat dairy products may need to be reviewed. According to the health researchers, recent studies have found no evidence that full-fat dairy products have a detrimental effect on blood lipid profile, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity despite their saturated fat contents. They claimed that full-fat dairy products may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Lordan et al. reported that studies suggested that consuming full-fat milk does not increase or decrease cardiovascular risk, but fermented full-fat dairy products, such as yogurt, kefir, and cheese may reduce the risk.

Chen et al. also reported that multivariate analyses did not indicate that full-fat dairy milk, full-fat yogurt, butter, cheeses, and cream increased cardiovascular disease risk compared with typical diets that contain high amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugars. But they found that replacing animal fats, such as dairy fat, with vegetable fats or polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease (10% and 24% respectively for vegetable fats and PUFAs). They also reported that replacing dairy fat with healthful carbs from whole grains resulted in a 28% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

The results of the study by Chen et al. suggested that full-fat dairy products may be healthy when consumed in moderate quantities and that replacement of dairy fat with plant-based fats improved cardiovascular outcomes.

4. Pistachios, unsalted (nuts)

Pistachio nuts may lower blood pressure, studies claim. Pic credit: Alexas Fotos/Pixabay

Studies have shown that the consumption of nuts lowered blood pressure, reduced peripheral vascular resistance and aortic stiffness, improved endothelial dilation, and lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease (Morgillo et al.)

Diets containing pistachio nuts (Pistacia vera) reduced systolic BP and peripheral vascular responses to stress in adults with dyslipidemia (West et al.).

A diet with moderate levels of fat and pistachios modestly improved cardiovascular risk factors in adults with well‐controlled type 2 diabetes, according to Sauder et al.

Mohammadifard et al. reported that their study suggested that pistachios were more effective for reducing systolic BP and diastolic BP compared with other nuts.

5. Chia seeds, unsalted

Multiple studies suggested that eating chia seeds (Salvia hispanica L.) may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure.

Toscano et al. investigated the effect of supplementation of diet with chia seed flour on blood pressure and related cardiometabolic factors in humans subjects with treated and untreated hypertension. They concluded that eating chia flour reduced blood pressure in subjects with treated and untreated high blood pressure.

Supplementation with chia seeds (40g/day) for 12 weeks improved systolic BP in adults with type 2 diabetes compared with a control group that did not consume chia seeds (Alwosais et al.).

6. Flax seeds, unsalted

Flaxseeds have blood pressure-lowering properties, according to studies. Pic credit: Susana Martins/Pixabay

Flaxseed consumption may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure due to its ω-3 fatty acids, α-linolenic acid, lignans, and fiber contents (Khalesi et al.). The researchers reported that consumption of whole flaxseed slightly reduced blood pressure, especially diastolic blood pressure.

Rodriguez-Leyva et al. investigated the effects of daily consumption of flaxseed on systolic (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) in people with peripheral artery disease and concluded that flaxseed had a potent antihypertensive effect in patients with peripheral artery disease.

They also reported that the systolic and diastolic blood pressure-lowering effect of flaxseed correlated with circulating α-linolenic acid levels. They proposed that the α-linolenic acid content of flaxseed was responsible for its antihypertensive properties.

The authors also concluded that flaxseed may have health benefits for patients with cardiovascular disease due to its ω-3 fatty acids, lignans, and fiber contents. They suggested that flaxseed supplementation may play a role in managing peripheral artery disease and hypertension.

Caligiuri et al. also reported that consumption of 30g of milled flaxseed/day for 6 months reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive patients with peripheral artery disease. The researchers reported that plasma α-linolenic acid levels of the subjects increased with the ingestion of flaxseed. Plasma α-linolenic acid levels were inversely associated with blood pressure.

The authors concluded that the blood pressure-lowering effect of flaxseed was due to the ability of α-linolenic acid to inhibit soluble epoxide hydrolase and lower levels of oxylipins that have inflammatory and hypertensive activity.

Supplementation with flaxseed oil resulted in significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels in dyslipidaemic patients, according to Paschos et al. The researchers also attributed the antihypertensive activity of flaxseed to its α-linolenic acid content.

7. Sunflower seeds, unsalted

Sunflower seeds have antihypertensive properties, studies claimed. Pic credit: Natthapat Aphichayananthanakul/Pixabay

Sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus L.) are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The phytochemical constituents of sunflower seeds have antimicrobial, antidiabetic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and wound-healing properties (Guo et al.).

The authors ascribed the antihypertensive effects of sunflower seeds to their bioactive 11S globulin peptides content. The bioactive peptide content of sunflower seeds exerts antihypertensive activity by inhibiting angiotensin-I converting enzyme (ACE).

They also attributed the anti-inflammatory properties of the seeds to constituents such as α-tocopherol, triterpene glycosides, and helianthosides.

According to Adeleke and Babalola, sunflower seeds are rich sources of phytochemicals, including antioxidant flavonols, phenolic acids, procyanidins, and phytosterols. They contain amino acids, dietary fiber, potassium, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids that support health. According to the researchers, sunflower seeds may be effective for preventing and managing diseases such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancers (Katsarou et al.).

8. Whole oat cereals

Oat cereals may lower systolic and diastolic BP, according to study. Pic credit: iha31/Pixabay

Keenan et al. reported that consumption of oats reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild or borderline hypertension.

The researchers investigated the short-term antihypertensive effects of soluble fiber-rich whole oat cereals when added to the typical American diet. They compared a group that had whole oat cereals added to their diets for 6 weeks to a control group on a low-fiber cereal diet.

They found that the oat cereal group recorded a 7.5 mmHg reduction in systolic BP and a 5.5 mmHg reduction in diastolic BP. But there was no change in the systolic BP or diastolic BP of subjects in the control group.

The oat cereal group showed an improvement in insulin sensitivity, a significant decrease in total cholesterol (9%), and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (14%). (Studies have shown that high LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.)

The researchers concluded that adding whole oat cereals to the diet of people with hypertension could significantly reduce blood pressure. They also concluded that whole oat cereal may be effective for preventing high blood pressure and may play a role as an adjunct treatment of high blood pressure

9. Lentils (pulses)

Lentils may have antihypertensive properties. Pic credit: Sandra Velez/Pixabay

Hanson et al. investigated the effects of feeding hypertensive rats diets containing beans and lentils and found that only lentils significantly reduced blood pressure and reversed pathological changes in the aorta caused by hypertension.

The American Heart/Stroke Associations (AHA/ASA), the Canadian Hypertension Education Program, and the European Society for Hypertension have all recommended increasing the intake of dietary pulses, such as lentils, as part of DASH diet guidelines (Jayalath et al.).

The ability of dietary pulses to lower blood pressure may be due to several constituents, including fiber, protein, and potassium (Jayalath et al.).

Studies also suggest that diets based on dietary pulses alone or as part of a DASH dietary plan may lower blood pressure. Pulses may also play an adjunct role in managing prehypertension and mild hypertension.

10. Green peas (pulses)

Green peas may have blood pressure-lowering effect. Pic credit: Rajesh Balouria/Pixabay

Li et al. investigated the blood pressure-lowering effect of pea (Pisum sativum) protein hydrolysate (PPH) in hypertensive rats and human subjects. They found that oral administration of PPH to spontaneously hypertensive rats at doses of 100mg and 200 mg/kg body weight significantly lowered systolic blood pressure.

The researchers suggested that the blood pressure-lowering effects of PPH may be due to bioactive peptides derived from PPH. They also reported that PPH-fed rats had lower plasma levels of angiotensin II, a vasoconstrictor involved in the development of high blood pressure.

According to the authors, human subjects also experienced a significant reduction in blood pressure after oral administration of PPH. They concluded that the bioactive peptides derived from PPH reduced blood pressure in hypertensive rats and human subjects.

11. Kidney beans (pulses)

Consumption of beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) was associated with reduced systolic blood pressure and lower body weight in adults, according to Papanikolaou et al.

The researchers reported that people who regularly consumed beans had a higher intake of dietary fiber and minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, iron, and copper than people who did not eat beans.

Potassium and magnesium are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Bean-eaters had lower body weight, smaller waist size, and significantly lower systolic blood pressure than non-bean eaters, according to the researchers. They reported that data showed bean consumption improved cardiovascular health parameters.

Consumption of kidney beans resulted in significant vasodilation in human subjects (Clark et al.). According to the authors, consumption of red kidney beans significantly reduced blood pressure. They also reported that eating darker-colored beans improved vascular function by improving the tensile properties of blood vessels.

12. Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

Chickpeas decrease systolic BP in obese individuals, study claimed. Pic credit: PDPics/Pixabay

Studies indicate that chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, help in weight management, insulin regulation, and improve the major markers of cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to Wallace et al.

The authors reported that supplementation of a wheat-based diet with chickpeas reduced serum total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL “bad” cholesterol).

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum L.) also decreased systolic BP in overweight and obese individuals who ate it for 8 weeks (Mollard et al.).

According to Wallace et al., consumers of chickpeas have a higher intake of dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamins A, E, C, folate, and minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, and iron, compared with people who did not eat chickpeas or other dietary pulses.

Chickpeas contain bioactive substances such as phytic acid, sterols, tannins, carotenoids, and polyphenols that have antioxidant properties in addition to several other health benefits.

Chickpeas are best known for their use in making hummus. Hummus is prepared from cooked and mashed chickpeas, blended with oils (olive oil) and spices.

13. Peanuts

Jones et al. reported that long-term consumption of peanuts was associated with health benefits, including lower blood pressure levels. The researchers concluded after a randomized, parallel-group trial that peanut consumption lowered serum lipids and blood pressure.

Peanuts and peanut by-products contain many health-boosting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Peanuts have cardioprotective properties mediated by heart-friendly constituents, such as resveratrol, phenolic acids, flavonoids, and phytosterols that block absorption of dietary cholesterol from the gut. Peanuts lower the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and improve serum lipid profiles (Arya et al.).

Fraser et al. reported a significant reduction of mortality caused by cardiovascular diseases in populations that regularly consumed peanut and peanut butter. The ability of peanut and peanut butter to lower blood pressure may be due to the combined or synergistic effect of health-promoting constituents such as monounsaturated fatty acids, amino acids, magnesium, potassium, fiber, and other bioactive components (Arya et al.).

Peanuts are also a good source of Co-enzyme Q10, an antioxidant that has been shown to have cardioprotective properties.

14. Cocoa and dark chocolate

Cocoa beans and dark chocolate may lower the risk of hypertension. Pic credit: gate74/Pixabay

Kuna Indians who live on the San Blas Islands of Panama consume large quantities of cocoa (Egan et al.). But despite their high sodium intake, they have a low incidence of hypertension. Among the Kuna, blood pressure does not generally rise with age and the incidence of cardiovascular diseases among them was about 80% less than people in the Panamanian mainland.

However, Kuna Indians who moved to mainland Panama showed a pattern of age-related increase in blood pressure and a higher incidence of hypertension.

The observation proved that the low prevalence of high blood pressure among the Kuna was not due to genetic factors. Researchers, therefore, suggested it could be due to their high intake of cocoa, about 10 times higher than the consumption of cocoa by mainland Panamanians.

Corti et al. suggested that flavanols in cocoa, such as epicatechin, were responsible for the low prevalence of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases among the Kuna. They proposed that flavonols improved vascular function, insulin sensitivity, and reduced platelet reactivity.

Subsequent research indicated that dark chocolate may also lower systolic BP, but some studies did not report a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure. Corti et al. suggested that the mixed results could be due to factors, such as the placebo effect, BP measurement methodology, and differences between the brands of dark chocolate.

A meta-analysis by Ried et al. found that flavanol-rich dark chocolate was superior to placebo in reducing high systolic BP and prehypertension diastolic BP. However, it did not significantly reduce mean blood pressure below 140mmHg systolic or 80mmHg diastolic.

Haber et al. also reported that flavonoids in cocoa and dark chocolate inhibited platelet activity, exhibited antioxidative and cardioprotective properties.

15. Extra-virgin olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil has antihypertensive effects. Pic credit: Steve Buissinne/Pixabay

Experimental and human studies have shown that olive oil has antihypertensive effects (Massaro et al.). The researchers concluded that the blood pressure-lowering effect of olive oil may be due to its high oleic acid and antioxidant polyphenol content. They recommended the consumption of olive oil as part of management protocols for high blood pressure in healthy individuals and people with cardiovascular diseases.

Olive oil as an element of the Mediterranean diet contributed to a lower incidence of cardiovascular incidents, such as stroke and myocardial infarction (Nocella et al.). According to Giang Ly et al., certain active components in olive oil, such as oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, have health-promoting properties. Olive oil, especially extra-virgin oil, is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in people with high risk (Guasch-Ferre et al.).

The low rate of cardiovascular mortality among people in Mediterranean countries could be due to the health benefits derived from the regular consumption of olive oil (Covas et al.).

16. Pumpkin seed oil

El-Mosallam et al. investigated the effect of consumption of pumpkin seed oil on hypertension induced by the nitric oxide synthase inhibitor N(ω)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester hydrochloride (L-NAME) in rats and compared their results with the effects of the calcium channel blocker amlodipine.

They reported that pumpkin seed oil and amlodipine significantly reduced L-NAME-induced high blood pressure in rats. Both pumpkin seed oil and amlodipine helped normalize certain electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormalities, such as the prolongation of the RR interval, P wave duration, and ST elevation. They also protected the animal subjects against L-NAME-induced pathological changes in the heart and the aorta.

The researchers concluded that pumpkin seed oil exhibits antihypertensive and cardioprotective properties. They suggested that pumpkin seed oil’s blood pressure-lowering property was due to its ability to boost the vasodilator nitric oxide (NO).

17. Black seed oil

Black seed oil is made from the seeds of Nigella sativa (black cumin, kalonji), a flowering plant (family Ranunculaceae) native to Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Black seed oil has been used for culinary purposes and treating various health conditions for centuries.

Black seed oil has blood pressure-lowering properties, according to Husseini et al.

The researchers investigated the effect of black seed oil (N. sativa oil) on blood pressure in a double-blind, randomized study involving 70 volunteers aged 34 to 63 years, with systolic BPs ranging from 110 mmHg to 140mmHg.

They found that consumption of black seed oil two times daily for 8 weeks resulted in a significant lowering of systolic and diastolic BPs compared with control groups.

Leong et al. reported that the active components of black seed oil have antioxidant properties (counter oxidate stress), calcium channel blockade activity, and diuretic properties that help to reduce blood pressure. They concluded that black seed oil could play a role in managing hypertension.

Consumption of black seed extract (200 or 400 mg/day) for 2 months decreased systolic and diastolic BP in patients with mild hypertension (Dehkordi and Kamkhah).

Tavakkoli et al. also reported that black seed oil has hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic, and bronchodilatory effects. The identified thymoquinone as a major active component of black seed oil responsible for its medicinal properties.