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7 Foods to Avoid With High Blood Pressure, Doctors Say

Don't make these mealtime mistakes if you have hypertension.

Having high blood pressure can have far-reaching effects on your health, damaging your heart, arteries, brain, kidneys, eyes, and more. Most notably, hypertension can put you at risk of a heart attack or stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Your doctor may prescribe medications such as diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, or calcium channel blockers to treat it. They may also let you know the foods to avoid with high blood pressure.

"It's important to note that while your diet is a cornerstone of treating and preventing heart disease, there is no 'one size fits all' approach. There are several factors, including gender, genetics, and lifestyle, that may influence what your doctor recommends to manage high blood pressure," says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, a women's health advocate and author.

However, she notes that there are certain foods that may raise blood pressure or contribute to blood pressure instability—and that these are generally best avoided if you're at high risk for hypertension. Read on to learn the seven foods to skip.

RELATED: New Study Uncovers a Supplement That Can Lower Blood Pressure.

Sodium-rich foods

Homemade chicken noodle soup with carrots and crackers
Jess Lessard Photography / iStock

It's no secret that high-sodium foods can contribute to hypertension. When you consume too much salt, your body retains water to counteract it, increasing the fluid volume of your blood and making it harder to pump.

Though sodium can be found in a wide range of foods, some of the worst offenders include canned soups and broths, pickled or fermented foods, and ultra-processed or pre-packaged foods, which account for up to 70 percent of our sodium intake.

"In America, we consume about 3,500mg of sodium a day on average while we only need 500mg, which equals to one-fourth of a teaspoon, for proper body function," says Goldberg.

However, Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, a fitness and nutrition advisor at Fortune Recommends Health, points out that consuming less sodium is just one part of the puzzle: "It's also about adding more potassium-rich foods… since those two work together like a seesaw."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Sodium and potassium are electrolytes that help your body maintain fluid and blood volume." When our bodies get too much sodium and not enough potassium, blood pressure can rise.

"Some options especially high in potassium are avocado, broccoli, tomato, oranges, potatoes, bananas, beans, nuts, and seeds," adds Melanie Betz, MS, RD, founder and CEO of The Kidney Dietitian in Chicago, Illinois.

Fatty meats

Cooked Steak cut in half on a plate with a piece of rosemary
KarepaStock / Shutterstock

Fatty cuts of meat are also best avoided if you're fighting high blood pressure. "These can contain high levels of less healthy saturated fats, which may contribute to plaque buildup in your arteries," says Mohr.

However, he explains that it's just as important to consider what you replace these fatty meats with since many people will swap foods high in saturated fat for those high in added sugar. "These can increase your heart's workload and raise blood pressure," he notes.

Instead, focus on replacing saturated fats with healthier fat sources—for instance, fatty fish rich in Omega-3s like salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines. Switching to leaner protein options like chicken, seafood, or plant-based sources can also help improve your overall heart health.

RELATED: 8 Daily Habits That Keep Your Heart Young.

Processed meats

turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato on a wooden board
mpessaris / Shutterstock

Similarly, processed meats pose a major threat when it comes to hypertension. In fact, Betz says this is "the number one food people should avoid if they have high blood pressure."

While hot dogs, sausage, and bacon are all widely known to be packed with salt, the dietitian notes that "lean" deli meats such as sliced turkey can be just as harmful.

"One hot dog can easily have 700mg of sodium, which is nearly 50 percent of the sodium recommendation in an entire day for people with blood pressure," Betz says. "People often think a turkey sandwich is a heart-healthy choice, but just two ounces of deli turkey also packs nearly 700mg of sodium!"

Sugary treats and beverages

two glasses of soda on a table
champpixs / iStock

Eating too much sodium is a key driver for hypertension, but consuming added sugar can also indirectly raise your blood pressure by causing "weight gain from the increase of nutrient-empty calories," according to Mohr.

He points to sodas, energy drinks, and sweet teas as some of the worst offenders.

"Chugging too many of these can lead to weight gain and increase your blood sugar, putting extra strain on your heart," agrees Raj Dasgupta, MD, an ABIM quadruple board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine, pulmonology, critical care, and sleep medicine, and a medical reviewer for NCOA.

RELATED: 10 Hidden Sources of Sugar That Could Be Making You Gain Weight.


mature woman sitting on couch drinking red wine

Your alcohol intake can also have a notable effect on your blood pressure—even if you drink in moderation. Women should limit their intake to no more than one drink per day, while men should limit their intake to two drinks per day, Mohr notes.

"There's no health benefit to even some alcohol, so moderate accordingly," he advises.

Dasgupta says that people taking medications for high blood pressure should be especially conscious of their alcohol consumption: "Overdoing it on the booze can negatively affect your blood pressure and interfere with certain medications, making it harder to manage your hypertension and potentially damaging your heart and liver."

Fried foods

closeup top-down view of chicken fingers and french fries with ketchup

Fried foods tend to be packed with sodium, saturated fat, and excess calories, making them "a recipe for high blood pressure and weight gain," according to Dasgupta.

In fact, a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrition Research and Practice looked at the impact of fried foods on hypertension risk. It confirmed that "high fried food intake was associated with high prevalence of prehypertension and hypertension."

"The odds of having prehypertension and hypertension was higher in the third tertile of fried food intake among fried food consumers compared to non-fried food consumers," the study authors wrote.

RELATED: The 3 "Ultraprocessed" Foods You Must Avoid for a Longer Life, 30-Year Study Finds.

Excessive caffeine

Pouring Creamer into a Cup of Coffee

Consuming too much caffeine can also temporarily increase your blood pressure, and scientists are working to better understand its potential long-term effects. In the meantime, many experts recommend limiting your intake if you're concerned about your blood pressure.

"Caffeine makes the neurons in our brain fire with less stimulation than needed when caffeine is not present," explains Stephanie Dunne, an integrative registered dietitian-nutritionist and the founder of Nutrition QED. "This increased brain activity causes a cascade of events throughout the body, including the release of adrenaline, our 'fight, flight or freeze' hormone, which constricts blood vessels and raises our blood pressure."

She adds that the impact of excessive caffeine may be most severe for those who already have hypertension. "As such, for people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, I recommend avoiding caffeine to prevent exacerbation," she says.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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