A new way to fight high blood pressure

| 3 min read

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High blood pressure affects nearly a third of U.S. adults and is a major risk factor for heart disease. To combat it, many people reduce their sodium intake, cut back on alcohol and exercise more. Well now, Japanese researchers suggest adding one more weapon to your anti-heart disease arsenal: A vegetarian diet.
Earlier this year, researchers analyzed existing studies that looked into the relationship between vegetarianism and blood pressure. They found that vegetarian diets – ones that exclude or rarely include meat, but that may include dairy, eggs and fish – are associated with lower blood pressure. The drop in blood pressure was on par with the benefits of a low-sodium diet or 11-pound weight loss. Even better, these results led to a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease or stroke.
It makes sense when you consider what we already know about vegetarianism and the factors contributing to heart disease. A plant-based diet tends to be lower in sodium and saturated fats and higher in fiber and potassium. This combination contributes to healthy weight loss and lower blood pressure. Plus, plant-based foods are low in saturated fat, allowing your blood to circulate more easily.
If you want to significantly reduce your meat intake, be sure to keep these guidelines in mind for a healthy overall diet:
Eat plenty of protein! Beans, lentils, nuts, rice, seeds and soy products such as tofu and tempeh are great meatless options. Cheese also contains protein, but you shouldn’t eat too much of it since it’s high in saturated fat.
Pay attention to calcium. Dairy products are rich in calcium, which helps you maintain healthy teeth and bones. You can find calcium in milk and yogurt, as well as cheese (but as we mentioned, moderation is key!). If you want to avoid dairy, alternative calcium sources include fortified breakfast cereals, soy products made with calcium sulfate and soy milk, calcium-fortified orange juice and some dark leafy greens such as broccoli and kale.
Don’t forget your vitamins and minerals. Your body absorbs zinc in meat better than that in plants, so people following a plant-based diet should be sure to eat plenty of foods rich in this dietary mineral. Options include beans, wheat germ and milk. Iron, another necessary mineral in meat, can also be found in spinach, black-eyed peas, whole-wheat breads and raisins. Most vegetarians eat eggs, which are a great source of vitamin B12, but drink more milk instead if eggs are not part of your diet. Vegetarians that don’t eat fish or eggs can make sure they’re also getting enough omega-3 fatty acids by eating seeds, walnuts and certain leafy green vegetables, as well as using soybean and canola oil. Finally, supplements and multivitamins might be a useful option if you’re worried about vitamin- or mineral-deficiencies. Ask your doctor to check your levels regularly.
Photo credit: brambleroots

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