This post is for my friend Sam who wonders what foods are good for lowering blood pressure.
Hypertension is a growing concern in this country. Especially when coupled with the unfortunate reality of restaurants that over-salt their food. Not only restaurants, even at home, we are overexposed. Most of us tend to over-salt our foods, then we become addicted to that level of salt flavor. It can take some time to readjust our palates. A diet high in fat, sugar and sodium, but also a high stress lifestyle can all contribute to high blood pressure. It is important to note that if you have blood pressure problems you need to let both your doctor and any nutrition professional you are working with know what you are doing. Herbal remedies, lifestyle changes and medication all taken together can cause a drop in blood pressure. Hypotension, blood pressure that is too low, is just as bad for you as hypertension. A typical adult blood pressure is considered to be 120/80.
Alfalfa is an herb with a reputation for lowering blood pressure. Other herbs believed to be beneficial for lower blood pressure include parsley, ginger root, nettle, and sage. Often taken as an infusion or a tea these should be avoided if you are on any sort of blood thinners.
Celery is an easily available food that has been recognized in Chinese medicine as being effective for lowering blood pressure. Studies done in Western medicine appear to confirm this benefit. Containing both potassium and sodium celery is not only a vasorelaxant it is also a diuretic helping to relieve the body of excess fluid.
Garlic is also known to be very beneficial for reducing not only blood pressure but also cholesterol. Fresh garlic is better as the beneficial allicin is fully available when chopped or minced. Letting the garlic sit for 5-10 minutes after cutting allows the allicin to fully develop. Cook garlic lightly for 10-15 minutes (in other words closer to the end of the cooking time) to get full benefit.
Hibiscus tea is known to be very effective for lower blood pressure. The dried flowers can be purchased either through health food stores or even some larger chain grocery stores. A double-blind study published in 2009 in the Journal of Human Hypertension concluded that non-medicated hypertensive diabetic patients had a positive outcome from drinking two cups of infused tea every day for one month. The report further stated, "This study supports the of similar studies in which antihypertensive effects have been shown for [Hibiscus sabdariffa]."
Sam also wanted to know about salt. Specifically the "fake" salt that many folks go on when they are told they can't have table salt anymore.
That "fake" salt is usually potassium chloride. Because it's not sodium it's deemed to be better for you by some medical practitioners. I will say that if you need to avoid excess sodium I think it's better to also avoid the potassium chlorides and look for other taste alternatives. Adding herbals blends like no salt-seasoning mix is a great way to add flavor without the salt.
I also like using lemon juice on things like black beans or sweet potatoes where I might normally use salt. The tangy flavor really adds a boost without the need for salt.
As to the difference between salts. I prefer to use sea salt because table salt is typically highly processed, stripped of minerals, chemicals are added to prevent clumping, and then iodine is added back in. Sea salt is simply dried and bottled. No additives and all the minerals are still in there. Sea salt does tend to have less iodine than table salt and iodine is important for our health. Adding sea vegetables to your diet is a good way to make sure you are getting enough. Kosher salt is a coarse salt named for the process by which it is created. To my knowledge there are no additives and it is not stripped of minerals. But the larger crystals limit some of the uses for it depending on the flavor profile of the dish you are making.
The average person should get from 1,500 to 2,300 mg of salt per day. 1 teaspoon has about 2,000 mg and it's important to remember that many foods already have sodium in them so we don't need to add much.