High Blood Pressure and Heart Healthy Foods for Seniors

by | Sep 11, 2018


Overview of High Blood Pressure (HBP)[1]

Blood pressure is the “…force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels.”[1] High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) occurs when this force is consistently too high.  HBP is harmful as it makes it difficult for the heart and blood vessels to work efficiently. In addition, cholesterol “…forms plaque along tiny tears in the artery walls,” narrowing the inside of the arteries and raising blood pressure.[1]  It’s estimated that 1 in every 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure[6], making your role as a caregiver significant as you can help manage your client’s blood pressure.  


High Blood Pressure Symptoms[2]

There are no symptoms of high blood pressure.[2] Thus, it’s very important that your client gets their blood pressure checked consistently with their doctor, even if they don’t feel anything wrong.  A common myth about HBP symptoms is that those with HBP experience symptoms such as sweating, facial flushing, nervousness, and difficulty sleeping. However, these myths remain untrue as HBP is symptomless.  The American Heart Association states, “if you ignore your blood pressure because you think a certain symptom or sign will alert you to the problem, you are taking a dangerous chance with your life.”[2] Make sure your client is following their doctor’s directions for helping their high blood pressure.

High Blood Pressure Treatment[3]

There is no cure for high blood pressure.  However, there are treatments that can lower blood pressure if it gets too high.  Your client’s doctor will create a specialized treatment plan for your client based on their needs and lifestyle.  For instance, your client’s doctor may recommend that your client stops smoking (if applicable), loses extra weight, and/or changes their diet.  There are also medications that can lower blood pressure that can be prescribed by a doctor.

Managing Blood Pressure with a Heart Healthy Diet[4]

The American Heart Association recommends eating a heart healthy diet to help manage high blood pressure and prevent the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  However, be sure to consult with your client’s doctor before changing your client’s diet.

Consume more:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole-grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Skinless poultry and fish
  • Nuts and legumes

Consume less:

  • Saturated and trans fats
  • Sodium
  • Red meat (only consume lean cuts if you choose to eat red meat)
  • Sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages

You can help your client monitor the ingredients to avoid by reading food labels.  The American Heart Association has also created a “Heart-Check” mark symbol for packaged foods.[4] This symbol signifies that the food has been approved by the American Heart Association in meeting their criteria “…for saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium for a single serving of the food product for healthy people over the age of two.”[4]  Furthermore, the American Heart Association has developed the DASH eating plan for manage HBP.  For a PDF of the complete DASH eating plan, click here.

Heart-Healthy Alternatives[5]

There are plenty of healthy alternatives to foods that raise blood pressure.  For example, to reduce sodium intake, use vinegar, lemon or fruit juices, spices, and/or herbs to flavor foods instead of salt.  Watch for “sneaky” oil and butter in ingredients such as salad dressing. Be sure to consult with your client’s doctor before changing your client’s diet.

Examples of Heart-Healthy Alternatives:

  • Lean meat
  • Skim or 1% milk
  • Yogurt and Greek yogurt
  • Low-fat and low-salt cheeses
  • Skinless turkey and chicken
  • Oatmeal (not instant)
  • Fruits (fresh, frozen, or canned without extra salt)
  • Vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned without extra salt)
  • Plain rice
  • Plain pasta
  • Plain potatoes
  • Breads (including English muffins, bagels, rolls, and tortillas)
  • Prepared food that’s low in salt
  • Unsalted pumpkin, squash, or sunflower seeds
  • Unsalted nuts

Examples of Foods To Avoid

  • Butter/margarine
  • Regular salad dressings
  • Fatty meats
  • Whole milk dairy products
  • Fried foods
  • Salted snacks
  • Canned soups
  • Fast food
  • Deli meats
  • Alcohol

Sodium versus Salt: What’s the Difference?[5]

Salt mostly consists of sodium, which is a substance that can cause a rise in blood pressure.  Salt is not the only ingredient that contains sodium. For example, MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a common ingredient in Chinese food and is high in sodium.  The American Heart Association recommends “…limiting daily sodium intake [to] no more than 1,500 milligrams.”[5] Again, consult with your client’s doctor to find out the healthy amount of sodium for your client.

Examples of High Sodium Foods

  • Processed foods
  • Processed meats
    • Deli meats, sausage, bacon, and ham
  • Canned soups, bouillon, dried soup mixes
  • Soy sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Salad dressings
  • Frozen and boxed mixes for potatoes, pasta, and rice
  • Salty snack foods
    • Chips, pretzels, popcorn, and salted nuts
  • Pickled or food marinated in brine
    • However, vinegar-based and lemon-based marinades/brines are fine to consume

You can reduce sodium intake by:

  • Avoid using table salt
    • Also avoid “lite salt” as a substitute
  • Reading nutrition labels
    • Select foods that are low in sodium or are labeled as “sodium-free,” “low sodium,” and “unsalted”[5]
  • To season foods, use sodium-free herbs and seasonings

Foods That Promote Healthy Blood Pressure[6]

  • Blueberries and strawberries
  • Pomegranates
    • If you purchase pomegranate juice, check the label for added sugar and salt
  • Bananas
    • Bananas contain lots of potassium, which helps manage HBP
  • Kiwis
    • Kiwis contain lots of vitamin C, which can help improve blood pressure
    • Add kiwis to smoothies or fruit salads
  • Watermelon
    • The amino acid citrulline helps manage HBP and is found in watermelon
  • Beets
    • Drink beet juice or incorporate beets into salads or side-dishes
  • Leafy Green Vegetables
    • Kale, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, collard greens, fennel, mustard greens, and swiss chard are all example of leafy greens
    • You can add swiss chard to a saute with garlic; add greens to curries and soups; or bake kale chips
  • Dark chocolate
    • Select dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa and is high quality
    • Consuming a single square (one ounce) each day has found to lower blood pressure
  • Oats
    • Oatmeal
    • You can even consider substituting rolled oats for breadcrumbs
  • Garlic
    • Research has found that garlic increases nitric oxide, which helps reduce HBP
    • Garlic is an easy ingredient to add in meals such as stir fry, omelets, and sautes
  • Fermented foods
    • Fermented foods are helpful in promoting gut health as they contain probiotics
    • Look for foods such as: natural yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, miso paste, and tempeh
  • Lentils
    • Lentils are a great source of protein and fiber
    • Lentils are also low-fat and low-sodium (sill check the packaging label as some may contain added fat or salt)
    • Add lentils to soups or salads
    • For a fun way to use lentils, consider this recipe for lentil tacos here
  • Cinnamon
    • Substitute sugar for cinnamon on top of oatmeal or fruit
  • Unsalted nuts
    • Unsalted pistachios and almonds are tasty as snacks or in salads
    • For a creative and delicious way to use unsalted nuts, check out this recipe for pistachio pesto here, just be sure to eliminate the added salt.

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