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7 High Blood Pressure Foods to Avoid  

Knowing which high blood pressure foods to avoid helps address hypertension. We list the foods that are notorious for causing dangerously high blood pressure.

Man pushes away unhealthy high blood pressure foods placed on while table to his left, while fresh vegetables are to his right.

A recent study with 1,047 participants indicated that over 49% of Malaysian adults have hypertension. Among the causes of hypertension is a poor diet. With such high numbers, it’s important you know what high-blood pressure foods to avoid.  

Hypertension is defined as having persistently high blood pressure. This means any readings at or above 140 mmHg (systolic or upper reading) and/or 90 mmHg (diastolic or lower reading). This condition is dangerous because it puts great stress on your arteries and organs, damaging them over time. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

Read on to read the most common ingredients found in Malaysian dishes that can lead to hypertension and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapy that can help achieve healthy blood pressure levels. 

High Blood Pressure Foods to Avoid 

Certain foods may increase your blood pressure or keep it high. Limiting these seven foods can help manage hypertension. 

1. Table salt 

While the sodium in salt is important for your body’s functions, too much salt in your food isn’t good. The sodium in table salt affects fluid levels in your body and raises your blood pressure to unhealthy levels.  

2. Pickled foods 

The use of salt to pickle and preserve foods is a speciality in our part of the world. Belacan (shrimp paste), soy sauce, salted fish, and pickled fruits are among the most flavourful foods in our cuisine. However, consuming unhealthy amounts will add too much sodium to your system.  

3. Canned foods 

A microwaved bowl of soup from a can is a convenient meal. But like other processed foods, they contain a lot of sodium and preservatives. On top of the sodium, metabolising chemical preservatives in processed foods release compounds that raise blood pressure. 

Rich, fried, salty, and sweet foods, including a hamburger, french fries, chocolate, doughnuts, soft drink, and sweets on a grey marbled surface.
Too much salt, sugar, and fried foods in your diet can raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels.

4. Processed meat 

Malaysians love burger hawker stalls and fast food restaurants. Unfortunately, processed meat such as hawker stall burger patties, hotdogs and cured meats are also very high in sodium and preservatives.

5. Foods high in bad fats 

Foods high in bad fats raise the levels of LDL, a type of cholesterol that is more easily oxidized, in the bloodstream. These oxidised LDL molecules increase inflammation in artery walls. Trans fat, an industrially derived fat found in cooking ingredients such as margarine and shortening, is the worst. 

Foods high in saturated fats like dairy, ghee, coconut, and palm oil are somewhere in between. Recent research found, for example, that attempting to completely remove saturated fats and replace them with highly processed carbohydrates led to worse outcomes in terms of heart disease.

Experts recommend taking most of your dietary fats from monounsaturated sources like virgin olive oil, which is prevalent in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. The phenols in virgin olive oil protect cholesterol from oxidation.  

6. Foods high in fructose 

Foods high in fructose 
Products such as commercial jams, bread, fruit juices, and breakfast cereals contain large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup.

The rise in foods containing high-fructose corn (HFCS) syrup such as in jams, bread, spreads, chocolate, packet fruit juices, soft drinks, and breakfast cereals is positively correlated with the growing rates of hypertension.

Research using animal models has indeed shown that HFCS leads to salt overload, increasing blood pressure. Too much fructose increases constriction in blood vessels, increasing blood pressure. Fructose also inactivates vasodilators in blood vessels because of its potential effect to reduce nitric oxide production. Vasodilation helps encourage blood flow to parts of the body lacking in oxygen and other nutrients.   

7. Alcohol 

Moderate and occasional consumption of alcohol is generally acceptable, but not without its health risks. Ethanol, the type of alcohol in alcoholic drinks, is another molecule that narrows the muscles in your blood vessels. This constriction is what raises blood pressure if you consume alcohol regularly.  

So Many Don’ts. Any Dos? 

Avoiding so many foods is not a pleasant way to live your life. Focus instead on adopting lifestyle habits that support good health, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise.

TCM approaches can be considered to combat high blood pressure.

Teas to lower blood pressure 

Chu I Ta, Chief TCM Physician from Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore, recommends drinking the following teas to lower blood pressure:

Chrysanthemum flower tea in a clear cup surrounded by fresh chrysanthemum flowers scattered on a table.
Chrysanthemum tea not only tastes delicious, it also clears Heat and detoxes your body naturally.
  • Chrysanthemum tea (ju hua cha, 菊花茶): Restores balance in the Liver, nourishes the eyes, clears Heat, and detoxes the body.  
  • Hawthorn tea (shan zha cha, 山楂茶): Has the effect of vasodilation while reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  
  • Lotus leaf tea (he ya cha, 荷叶茶): Clears Heat, cools blood, eases bleeding, and offers a vasodilation effect.  
  • Sophora japonica tea (huai hua cha, 槐花茶): Clears excessive Heat-Fire in the Liver and brightens the eyes.  
  • Tuber fleeceflower tea (shou wu cha, 首乌茶): Tonifies the Liver and Kidneys, reduces cholesterol and strengthens the tendons and bones.  

Consult a certified TCM physician before consuming these teas or using any herbal ingredients. Your physician may also recommend additional ingredients to add to each tea for specific purposes. 

Acupuncture 

“Diet aside, acupuncture, acupressure, and scraping techniques can help alleviate high blood pressure symptoms,” Physician Chu says. The acupressure points for hypertension include qu chi (LI 11, 曲池) and tai chong (LR 03, 太冲). 

Anti-hypertensive herbs and foods

Hand holds two fresh tian ma or tall gastrodia tubers against dark grey background.
Tall gastrodia tuber or tian ma is a major ingredient in Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin, a TCM herbal formula effective in treating hypertension.

A recent 2020 study of Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin (天麻钩藤饮), a typical TCM formula prescribed for hypertension, provides strong evidence of its efficacy. The study found that the decoction significantly reduced blood pressure in rats after eight weeks of administration. Findings also implied that the formula doesn’t have toxic side effects like many anti-hypertensive drugs on the market today.

According to TCM physician Kong Teck Chuan, foods like mushrooms, sea kelp, lettuce, spinach, mung beans, and lotus seeds (lian zi, 莲子) can also help lower blood pressure. He also adds that herbs like mulberries (sang ren, 桑葚), and wolfberries (gou qi, 枸杞) can also help correct the different syndromes associated with hypertension. 

We recognise that completely limiting the seven high blood pressure foods above is not always possible in our gastronomically-inclined environment. When it comes to trans fats, preservatives, and high-fructose corn syrup, it is best to avoid these, but you still need sodium, cholesterol, and carbohydrates for your body to function.

The key is in the amounts. Prepare meals using less sodium and more fresh and non-processed ingredients. You can make better decisions and consider more holistic approaches to your lifestyle and healthcare. 

This is an adaptation of the article “什么是高血?“, which first appeared on the Health123 website.

References

  1. Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition. 2021. The prevalence of hypertension among Malaysian adults and its associated risk factors: data from Malaysian Community Salt Study (MyCoSS). [online] Available at: <https://jhpn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41043-021-00237-y> [Accessed 3 December 2022]
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. High Blood Pressure (Hypertension). [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4314-hypertension-high-blood-pressure> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  3. BloodPressureUK.org. Salt and your blood pressure. [online] Available at: <https://www.bloodpressureuk.org/your-blood-pressure/how-to-lower-your-blood-pressure/healthy-eating/salt-and-your-blood-pressure/> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  4. Journal of Hypertension. 2022. Red and processed meat consumption and food insecurity are associated with hypertension; analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, 2003–2016. [online]. Available at: <https://journals.lww.com/jhypertension/Citation/2022/03000/Red_and_processed_meat_consumption_and_food.17.aspx> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  5. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2018. A Controlled Increase in Dietary Phosphate Elevates BP in Healthy Human Subjects. [online] Available at: <https://jasn.asnjournals.org/content/29/8/2089> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  6. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2014. The Vilification of Cholesterol (for Profit?). [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684135/> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  7. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. 2022. The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  8. Journal of Hypertension. 2015. The mechanisms underlying fructose-induced hypertension: a review. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4947541/> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  9. Health Service Executive (HSE), Ireland. 2019. Alcohol’s effect on the body. [online] Available at: <https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/physical-health/alcohols-effect-on-the-body/blood-pressure-and-the-heart.html> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  10. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013. Evidence-Based Chinese Medicine for Hypertension. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3686073/> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 
  11. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2020. Tianma Gouteng Decoction Exerts Cardiovascular Protection by Upregulating OPG and TRAIL in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats. [online] Available at: <https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2020/3439191/> [Accessed 3 December 2022] 

 

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