8 Foods to Watch Out for If You Have High Blood Pressure
A cardiologist and a registered dietitian reveal the foods that are common sources of sodium to avoid if you have high blood pressure.
What foods make your blood pressure go up?
When it comes to protecting your heart health, especially if you have high blood pressure, there are certain foods that can do more harm than good. Yes, those tasty and salty foods you love so much (hello, pizza) can satisfy your hunger cravings, but they can also lead to a spike in blood pressure due to their high sodium content. The presence of extra sodium in the bloodstream triggers more water to enter the blood vessels, which in turn, increases the volume of blood inside them, according to the American Heart Association. Therefore, the more blood that’s flowing through your blood vessels, the more the pressure increases.
So, how do you keep your high blood pressure in check when eating? You should follow a sensible diet as directed by your healthcare professional. Keep in mind there are foods—some surprising, some not—that can actually increase blood pressure.
We spoke with a cardiologist and a registered dietitian who share the foods to avoid if you have high blood pressure.
Depending on the loaf, a single slice of bread could have up to 230 mg of sodium—15 percent of the 1,500 mg that is the upper daily limit recommended for someone with high blood pressure. “If you’re having a sandwich, you’ll take two slices and double that,” says Martha Gulati, MD, professor of medicine and the chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona (Phoenix) and editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org. And if you’re having toast at breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a roll during dinner, those numbers could stack up fast. Cut out where you can, like saying no to the bread basket at a restaurant, says Dr. Gulati. When you do need a carb fix, look for a loaf that has 140 mg of sodium or less per serving, says Kate Patton, RD, Cleveland Clinic’s Preventative Cardiology Services. Sprouted grain breads, which stores usually keep in the freezer aisle because they have fewer preservatives, are usually a safe bet, she says. (Learn the signs that you eat too much salt.)
Cold cuts and cured meats like hot dogs have hundreds of milligrams of sodium, especially if you like piling a sandwich high. “People think ‘it’s low-fat and not bad for me,’” says Dr. Gulati. But that high-sodium content can make your body hang on to fluid and raise your blood pressure. If you can’t find a low-sodium version you like, try a different type of sandwich, says Patton. She recommends baking chicken breast at the start of the week to slice up for lunch, or using tuna or natural peanut butter for your protein. (Learn how the DASH diet can lower blood pressure.)
You might know frozen and marinated chickens have salt added, but did you know even a fresh chicken could be full of preservatives? “They inject saline water to make the chicken look plumper and look prettier,” says Dr. Gulati. That preservative doesn’t just add salt, but it also means you get a worse value because the stores weigh the chicken after pumping in the water. The wrapper should tell you if it’s had a saline injection, but ask the person behind the counter if you can’t find the label. (Check out these other foods that are bad for your heart.)
You already know pizza isn’t great for your waistline, but it could hurt your heart health too. Between the dough, salty cheese, and sodium-heavy pepperoni, and the salt some pizza parlors sprinkle on top, a slice can easily pack in more than 700 mg of sodium—and who stops at just one? At the pizza parlor, request toppings that won’t pack in so much salt. “Ask for less cheese and more veggies,” says Patton. But your best bet is to make your own at home. Start with a low-sodium crust like an English muffin base, then top with fresh or no-salt-added canned tomato sauce, plus a bit of mozzarella.
“We think of soup as being healthier, but one cup of chicken soup can have close to 1,000 mg of sodium,” says Dr. Gulati. “You might eat the whole can and have more than a cup. It’s being smart about portion sizes.” Check labels for low-sodium versions—or better yet, make your own. Find a low- or no-sodium broth, then add whatever poultry, veggies, beans (rinsed off if they’re from a can), and rice you want, says Patton. (Find out why chicken soup is a great cold remedy.)
You probably don’t think much of that pickle on your plate, but a single spear can have more than 300 mg of sodium. “You throw that on a sandwich and boom, that’s going to raise the sodium level,” says Patton. Check nutrition labels when picking a brand, and try to limit yourself to just a few slices to give your burger a bite without overdoing it on sodium. (Try these low-salt snacks as a side instead of pickles and chips.)
Your healthy salad could be hiding a sneaky salt source: The dressing. Bottled versions can be loaded with sodium, so drizzle on extra virgin olive oil and vinegar instead. “It has virtually no sodium,” says Patton. Punch up the flavor at home by adding mustard, garlic, herbs, or jelly, she suggests. (Don’t miss these other surprising high-sodium foods.)
Basically anything at a restaurant
Restaurants like adding salt to their food because it enhances the taste to keep customers happy—but bad news for anyone with high blood pressure. Scan the nutrition facts on a restaurant’s website or fast food spot’s pamphlets for the lowest-sodium options. If nothing is jumping out, modify your own food a bit by taking off the top half of a sandwich bun or skipping the dressing, suggests Patton. You can’t ask them to leave salt out of sauces the chefs make in big batches, but you can request that they don’t sprinkle on any additional salt. “You’re paying for it—ask for it how you want it,” says Dr. Gulati.
- American Heart Association: "Why Should I Limit Sodium?"
- Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC, FAHA, FASPC, professor of medicine and the chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona (Phoenix) and editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org
- Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Preventative Cardiology Services