New Year’s Resolution for Lower Blood Pressure: Eat Less Processed Food
Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when you promise yourself you’ll become healthier / happier / a more upstanding citizen… and of course you’ll get on top of your high blood pressure. Well, new year’s resolutions can be short lived but that’s often because they’re unrealistic. Here’s one simple new year’s resolution you could make that would help lower your blood pressure naturally and get you healthier in general: eat less processed food (and drink fewer processed drinks).
Yep. If Simon and I could distil our years of research and experimentation into lowering blood pressure naturally into one piece of advice, that would be the most important one.
Nutritionists and dieticians can argue till they’re blue in the face about exactly what proportions and types of proteins, fats and carbohydrates you should be getting. But if you just eat less processed food – and drink less processed drinks – that will go a long way to giving you a healthier diet which lowers your blood pressure.
Of course, you need to be active too, and to get a handle on your stress levels if that’s an issue. You can read a more detailed overview of all these in our article here: How to lower blood pressure naturally
So what do we mean exactly by ‘processed food’?
Technically, processed food is food that has had anything done to it, such as being cooked or frozen. However, for our purposes, the term ‘processed food’ refers to food which has been formulated with ingredients not used in ordinary food preparation. This includes flavourings, colourings, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives, such as sodium, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and various types of sugar.
Processed food thus includes breakfast cereals, instant soups, ready-made meals, baked goods like pies, cakes and pastries, sauces and condiments, some canned goods, and many take-out fast foods.
Don’t forget about drinks either. Soft drinks and sodas contain some of the most unhealthy sweeteners so it’s really good to switch to more natural drinks. You could have smoothies or coconut water rather than a cold soft drink. Even real coffee is better than a caffeinated power drink. You’ll find a few more suggestions here: What to drink to lower blood pressure
How does processed food affect blood pressure?
Many of these artificial ingredients in processed foods individually contribute to raised blood pressure. And when you put a load of them in a food product all together, and eat that regularly, you’re asking for trouble. Here are a few of the main culprits:
Most of us are aware that getting too much salt can be associated with high blood pressure. Stopping adding salt to your food at the table will only help so much. Many of us are getting most of our salt, unknown to us, via the sodium added to processed foods. Even tinned tomatoes sometimes contain added sodium – so always check labels. If you cut down on foods containing added sodium, then you’ll be able to safely add salt to your meals at the table, particularly if you use natural sea salt instead of refined bleach table salt. Read more about this here: Hidden salt and high blood pressure
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is used as a flavour enhancer and thickener in many processed foods. We often associate it with Chinese restaurant foods but it’s increasingly used in all kinds of ready-made and take-out meals. MSG is associated with raised blood pressure not just because it’s 12% sodium but because the glutamate also has a blood pressure-increasing effect. It may not be listed on labels as “MSG” but is often a component of “natural flavourings”.
Adding sugar to processed food, as a flavour enhancer and preservative, has become an increasingly common practice. Indeed, many popular foods now contain far more sugar as they did just a few decades ago. However, studies clearly show high-sugar diets to be associated with high blood pressure (and a host of other health problems). Studies also show that lowering your sugar intake results in decreased blood pressure.
But what if you have a sweet tooth? Don’t worry. There are plenty of naturally sweet foods, including fruit. And there are quite a few natural sweet substances you can add to your food. And there’s always chocolate.…
How to eat less processed food – some tips
As with all things, it’s more effective and more enjoyable to look at things positively than negatively. So don’t think about NOT EATING processed food. Think about eating more natural foods, things cooked from basic and natural ingredients. Let these replace the processed items you would normally eat. This could mean cooking and baking more of your own foods and buying less ready-made things. And/or it could involve being more careful what you buy and where you buy it. In terms of assessing specific meals or food items, I once heard a nutritionist put it this way: if your grandparents wouldn’t recognise it as food, then maybe you shouldn’t either.
Some change is better than no change
Please note – when we say eat less processed food, we mean just that. You don’t need to avoid processed foods and drinks completely. Our health and blood pressure are less determined by what we eat occasionally than what we eat habitually, day in, day out. So you don’t have to be a puritan about what you eat. Just be a bit more mindful, meal by meal, day by day.
Take it easy and don’t try to change everything all at once
You also don’t need to completely change your diet all at once – even if you had the willpower to do so. In fact, sudden and dramatic changes can sometimes be hard on your body. Just make adjustments to your snacks and meals gradually.
One handy strategy is to focus on one meal at a time.
For example, for the month of January, just focus on your breakfast or whatever you eat first thing in the day. Being Scottish, I’m a big fan of porridge for breakfast. It can be a bit plain though, so here are some ways to jazz it up: Delicious ways to eat oats
(I also have a devilish habit of eating a square of dark chocolate first thing in the morning, before I have anything else. Apart from the fact that dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) is actually pretty good for you and your blood pressure, I also figure that it’s good to start the day with something that’ll put me in a good mood from the get-go. I haven’t actually checked this habit out with a nutritionist though… )
How to lower blood pressure naturally – more tips!
If you want more detailed guidance on anything I’ve just said above (or indeed on any of the articles on this website), then you’d do well to take a look at our guide on lowering your blood pressure naturally.
To make it simple, we’ve arranged the guide into nine easy-to-follow steps. These steps are based on the principle that positive incremental change is always best in health matters. Each chapter will take you further along the road of greater vigour and peace of mind (and a healthy blood pressure).
Choose between a wide range of delicious foods that reduce your blood pressure. Include a number of mental and physical exercises in your schedule for both relaxation and invigoration.
Click on the link below for more information:
Note that this is a guide for good healthy living and will be beneficial for all – even if you don’t currently suffer from high blood pressure.
Post by Alison, 30th December 2021