Diet and healthy eating
The food you eat is closely linked to your blood pressure and health. Make changes to your diet to help lower your blood
pressure and improve your health.
Whether or not your blood pressure is raised, everyone can
benefit by changing the food you eat in your diet. A healthy diet is suitable for the whole family. Changing what you and your family eat may seem difficult at first; old habits can be hard to change.
But once you get used to the changes in your diet you will feel better your health will improve and will enjoy your food much more.
benefit from making changes to the foods they eat and their lifestyle to lower their blood pressure and therefore reduce their risk of heart attack
and stroke. Your blood pressure is very much affected by:
- Eating too much salt
- Not eating enough fruit and vegetables
- Not being active enough
- Being overweight
If you have high blood pressure then you may need to take medication. If you do, then making changes to your diet can help make your tablets
work more effectively. If you do not take medication you may find that you are able to control your high blood pressure and lower it
simply by eating different foods and being more active.
Making other lifestyle changes can also help to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke. This includes giving up smoking and eating less
saturated fat. If you smoke, eat a lot of saturated fat and have high blood pressure you are at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the
future. So, stopping smoking and cutting down on the amount of saturated fat you eat should also be included in the changes you make to your
diet and lifestyle to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Changes you can make to your diet and the foods you eat that will help to lower your blood pressure. Cutting down on salt, eating more fruit and
vegetables and eating less fat and saturated fat will all have a beneficial effect not only on your blood pressure but on your general health too,
helping to increase your energy and make you feel better.
To see the impact on lowering your blood pressure by reducing salt in your diet many people find encouragement in regularly measuring their own blood pressure with
automatic digital home monitors - follow this link for more information about recommended accurate machines.
What is a healthy diet?
You should base your meals on two groups of food:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Starchy foods like bread, cereals, rice and pasta (choose wholegrain versions when you can) and good old spuds
There are two groups of food that you should only eat moderate amounts of:
- Lower fat dairy foods e.g. half-fat cheese and low-fat yoghurt, skimmed milk
- Lean meat, poultry, fish and alternative sources of protein like nuts, eggs and pulses
You should only eat very limited amounts of high sugar and high fat foods
Good food is a very important part of our life and in no way should you see these changes as restrictive. The changes that you make in your diet
will make food more enjoyable and taste better.
Why is salt important?
The amount of salt that we eat has a direct effect on our blood pressure. The more salt we eat the higher our blood pressure.
Further information about salt and blood pressure
Fruit and Vegetables
Why are fruit and vegetables important?
The Department of Health recommends that everyone in the UK should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day but ideally you
should be eating seven to nine portions. Eating more fruit and vegetables will lower your blood pressure.
Fruit and vegetables are a good natural source of potassium. This has the opposite effect to sodium or salt and will help to lower your
Fruit and vegetables also contain antioxidants, eg, vitamins C and E, which may play an important role in preventing heart disease
Fruit and vegetables are very low in salt, usually contain little fat and are a good source of fibre
Vegetables are easy to cook and fruit does not need preparation
How much is a portion?
A portion of fruit and vegetables is 80 grams, which means:
- A dessert bowl of salad
- Three heaped tablespoons (a quarter of your plate) of vegetables
- Three heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses*
- One medium fruit (eg, apples, oranges, pears, bananas)
- Two smaller fruits (eg, plums, apricots,
- One slice of a large fruit (eg, melon, pineapple, mango)
- Two-three tablespoons of berries and grapes
- A glass (150mls) fruit or vegetable juice* One tablespoon of dried fruit
*However much you eat or drink, pulses and juice can each only count as one portion per
It is best to eat fruit and vegetables freshly cooked or raw, but if this is not possible, frozen, dried and tinned vegetables are better than none.
Tinned vegetables usually have salt added and tinned fruits may have large amounts of sugar so only choose ones with no added salt and no
added sugar. Vegetables with sauces will have salt added. Try to have fruit juice at breakfast and dried fruit on cereals. Instead of having
biscuits (full of fat and salt!) mid-morning or afternoon, have fruit or salt-free bread with fruit. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is the best way
to get potassium, and you should not take potassium supplements (tablets) unless prescribed by your doctor.
Potatoes are counted as starch, not vegetables, but they are a very good source of carbohydrate and potassium. (Avoid chips or added salt!)
Fat and Cholesterol
Most of us eat too much fat including too much saturated fat, which directly causes raised cholesterol and causes weight gain. Fatty foods
contain huge numbers of calories compared to the same amount of carbohydrate foods and fruit and vegetables. Further
information about fat and cholesterol
Sugar, which includes table sugar (sucrose), glucose and syrups, is a refined carbohydrate which means that a lot of the goodness from the natural product has been removed during the manufacturing process. There is strong evidence that sugar, which is digested and absorbed quickly by the body, can cause raised blood sugar and insulin levels which in the long-term may be harmful to your health, being linked to diabetes and heart disease. Sugar is also an important cause of tooth decay.
Eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain over time, which puts you at risk of high blood pressure. Sugary foods are high in calories and can lead to a quick energy rush followed by a slump afterwards. This may cause you to feel sluggish and low in energy and can lead to cravings for more sugary foods, so that you eat too much and put on weight.
Sugar, like salt, is an acquired taste that can be altered, so avoid it as far as possible. Your sugar or sweet receptors on your tongue will adjust. Many processed foods, particularly those aimed at children, contain large amounts of sugar, eg, soft drinks, sweets, breakfast cereals, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and snacks. Watch out too for processed foods that carry labels like ‘low-fat’. Very often the fat in these foods has been replaced by sugar to keep the same taste and so the normal version and the low-fat version can contain the same amount of calories.
In general, African-Caribbean people are more sensitive to salt and traditional food is often made with salted fish or meat soaked in salt before cooking. Many seasonings are very high in salt. Avoid salted meats and fish, and use fresh herbs and spices instead of these very salt-rich seasonings.
Chinese cooking is often high in salt and mono-sodium glutamate. Many Chinese seasonings and sauces are also high in salt. Use fresh herbs and spices instead.
If you are Asian then you are more likely to have a heart attack than other people in the UK. South Asian foods can be very high in saturated fat, particularly if ghee (butter) is used. Boiled or steamed rice should be used instead of pilau or biryani. Do not use any butter or saturated fats and do not add salt. If oil is necessary, use a monounsaturated fat such as olive or rapeseed oil and use in small amounts.
What happens now?
After two or three weeks of changing the food you eat you will:
· Feel better
· Feel healthier
· Reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
· Reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke
· Enjoy food more
Are there any other changes I should make?
Changing to healthy nutritious food is the most important way to lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke. You also need to do the following:
Lose weight if you are overweight. Eating healthy foods, choosing low fat and low sugar foods and eating less, and being more active, is the best way
Become more active. Start slowly if you have not previously been very active, and build up over several months
Changes to the diet and food that you
eat, as well as other changes in your lifestyle, will help you to lower your blood pressure and
bring better health
Changes that you make to your lifestyle will work on their own, but they also help to make any tablets you are taking more effective
Reducing the amount of salt that you eat, and eating more fruits and vegetables, will lower your blood pressure
Eating less saturated fat will help to lower your cholesterol, and this will lower your risk of heart attack or stroke
Changing the foods that you eat will help you to feel better and become healthier, as well as reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol and your risk of heart attack and stroke
More pages about diet,
fat, salt, blood
pressure, and measuring it at
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