Blood Pressure and the Plant Based Diet — A Case For Plant Based
May is national blood pressure education month. So, let’s look at how a plant based diet affects our blood pressure. 🌱🩺
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, affects nearly 68 million Americans.
Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage your heart and cause additional health problems. Hypertension increases the risk for heart attacks, heart disease, and stroke.
A normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 mmHg. But what does that mean? The first (or top) number is called systolic: the amount of pressure when your heart beats (or contracts). The second (or bottom) number is called diastolic: the amount of pressure when your heart rests between beats.
A systolic blood pressure 120–139 mmHg or a diastolic blood pressure 80–89 mmHg is considered pre-hypertensive. These people are at increased risk for developing high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is defined as systolic 140 and higher or diastolic 90 and higher.
When hypertension occurs, the pressure in the arteries becomes high, causing the heart to work harder than normal to pump blood throughout the body.
High Blood Pressure Complications
Hypertension rarely presents with clear signs or symptoms. Therefore, it is vitally important that your blood pressure be assessed on a regular basis.
As previously stated, hypertension increases risk for heart disease, coronary artery disease, and stroke. However, it poses other risks as well.
Weakened and narrow blood vessels in the kidneys can prevent these organs from functioning properly. Uncontrolled high blood pressure damages blood vessels which increases risk for aneurysms, vision loss, and heart failure.
Narrowed or blocked arteries can limit blood flow to the brain, causing difficulty with memory and understanding, even leading to vascular dementia.
Additionally, there is a link between high blood pressure and diabetes.
Global Burden of Disease Study
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) is the most comprehensive analysis ever done of worldwide causes of death.
The study involved more than 3,600 researchers in over 145 countries. They examined nearly 100,000 data sources.
From 1990 to present, GBD studied premature death and disability from more than 350 diseases and injuries in 195 countries. They compared trends over time among sex, age groups, and populations.
GBD concluded that dietary factors contributed to 11 million deaths and 255 million decreases in life expectancy.
High blood pressure was the number one risk factor identified by the GBD for health complications and death.
GBD found healthier diets included eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, as well as decreasing sodium intake. Healthier diets could save 1 in 5 lives every year.
Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure
A family history of hypertension is rarely the cause of you developing hypertension. Blood pressure is more dependent on your lifestyle choices than genetics.
Sure, high blood pressure may be hereditary, but more often than not, it is simply because family members share common eating habits, environments, and other potential factors that increase their risk.
Therefore, it is essential that you maintain a healthy lifestyle and adopt heart-healthy habits.
Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy BMI. If you smoke, quit smoking. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
Monitor salt intake. A diet high in sodium (salt) increases the risk for higher blood pressure. Most people eat more than double the amount of recommended sodium. Cheese and processed foods rank among the highest contributors of sodium in the American diet. ( How Not To Die by Michael Greger.)
Make routine doctor visits and have your blood pressure checked regularly. Take medications as prescribed by your physician.
Plant Based Diet
Studies have shown that consuming a mostly or exclusively plant based diet can not only prevent but can also treat high blood pressure. Read here to learn what exactly a plant based diet is. 🌱
When eating a plant based diet, it’s important to choose healthy foods: especially if your goal is preventing and reversing certain diseases and disorders.
For example, eating whole grains (like whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, and brown rice) is better than eating refined grains (such as white bread and white rice).
Foods like white bread, white pasta, and white rice are highly processed; as a result, many of the healthy nutrients are stripped away.
On average, blood pressure medications reduce the risk of heart attack by 15% and the risk of stroke by 25%. A study has found that eating 3 portions of whole grains per day achieved these same results. ( How Not To Die by Michael Greger.)
Mounting evidence, dating back to the 1920s, shows a link between plant based diet and lower blood pressure.
According to the Adventist Health Study-2, which studied more than 89,000 people, vegetarians (those eating meat-free diets) cut their risk of high blood pressure in half. Those eating vegan diets (no meat, eggs, and dairy) reduced their risk of high blood pressure by 75%. The less meat in your diet, the greater increase for positive health outcomes.
Most studies agree, eating a whole food plant based diet is the healthiest and most nutritious option.
Whole plant based foods have immense benefits to our heart health. Most doctors and dietitians agree, you can virtually eat unlimited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, while whole grains and legumes are also included in the diet.
Limiting intake of nuts, seeds, and healthy oils is usually advised. While nuts and seeds are high in fiber, protein, and nutrients, they are also high in fat. These are healthy fats, but intake of them should always be discussed with your physician or cardiologist.
Whole plant based foods should be minimally processed and eaten in the most natural state possible.
For example, drinking store bought fruit juice is not the same as eating the whole fruit. Juices are typically high in sugar, with much of the vitamins and fiber removed in processing.
Flaxseeds are one of the richest sources of essential omega 3 fatty acids, are extremely high in antioxidants, and packed full of fiber. Evidence links flaxseeds to decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
Published in a medical journal, a study was boldly titled, “ Flaxseed: A Miraculous Defense Against Some Critical Maladies.”
After 6 months, the study found that those participants in the placebo group started out hypertensive and stayed hypertensive, even though many of them were on blood pressure pills.
Those study participants that were unknowingly being fed flaxseed, lowered blood pressure by an average of 15 points systolic and 7 points diastolic. (That would result in an average of 46% fewer strokes and 29% less heart disease over time.)
Comparatively: calcium channel blockers (medications such as Norvasc, Cardizem, Procardia), on average reduce blood pressure by 8 points systolic and 3 points diastolic.
ACE inhibitors (medications such as Vasotec, Zestril, Altace), on average reduce blood pressure by only 5 points systolic and 2 points diastolic.
The DASH diet was developed to lower blood pressure without the need for medication, and is promoted by the American Heart Association.
The DASH diet is an eating plan that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat or nonfat dairy. The diet also includes mostly whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts, and beans. It is high in fiber and low to moderate amounts of fat.
Considered the “Americanized version of the Mediterranean diet,” the DASH diet is “designed to be flexible enough to meet the lifestyle and food preferences of most people.”
So why would they promote a diet that includes meat and dairy, knowing that research points to the opposite? A couple of reasons.
Most people flat-out refuse to give up meat and dairy. So this plan was developed to accommodate most people’s food preferences while attempting to gain the benefit of a plant based diet.
The general population is more likely to “get on board” if meat and dairy are included in the diet. Essentially, the research (and the health benefits) have been “watered down.”
National Institute of Health
The DASH diet was developed by the National Institute of Health (NIH). They are the primary federal agency for medical, health, and behavioral research.
And as we’ve already learned, meat and dairy industries are major lobbying organizations with strong voices that heavily influence decision-making in Washington.
Cost of Eating WFPB
Many people argue that it is more expensive to eat a WFPB diet. This could not be further from the truth. Sure, fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes be expensive. Buy in-season and local; and buy in bulk. Fresh whole foods are actually cheaper than processed foods.
Consider a shopping list for 2 people for 1 days worth of meals. Let’s compare a traditional Western diet (meat and dairy), a vegan diet, and a WFPB diet (minimally processed, whole foods). All prices taken from Sprouts Farmers Market.
Traditional Western Diet
1 pound applewood smoked bacon $7.49
6 pasture raised large eggs $3.99
1 pound golden potatoes $0.99
½ gallon organic whole milk $4.99
Loaf of Italian bread $3.79
¾ pound deli sliced ham $7.49
4 oz. sliced American cheese $2.00
Bag of kettle cooked BBQ chips $2.99
Package of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies $3.99
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts $4.49
4 ears of corn on the cob $2.00
Head of iceberg lettuce $0.99
2 Roma tomatoes $0.64
Bag of cheese garlic croutons $1.99
Ranch salad dressing $3.29
Box of vegan cinnamon cereal $3.29
Half-gallon organic soy milk $4.49
2 Gala apples $1.06
7 oz sushi vegan roll $6.99
2 vegan frozen burritos $5.98
2 mangoes $1.58
two Beyond plant based burger patties $6.99
Vegan hamburger buns $2.99
Daiya vegan cheddar cheese slices $4.99
1 pound of asparagus $3.99
2 sweet potatoes $1.76
½ pound bulk organic rolled oats $0.85
2 bananas $0.42
6 oz organic raspberries $3.99
5.6 oz organic blueberries $3.99
One bunch of organic spinach $1.79
2 organic hothouse tomatoes $2.68
One organic orange bell pepper $2.00
One organic cucumber $0.89
½ pound bulk dried organic black beans $1.64
¼ pound bulk organic brown rice $0.75
½ pound bulk dried organic tri-colored quinoa $2.25
½ pound dried organic red lentils $1.15
4 cups organic vegetable broth $2.49
1 bunch organic green kale $1.29
Head of organic broccoli $1.66
One organic carrot $0.45
8 oz organic whole baby bella mushrooms $3.49
One eggplant $1.49
1 organic red onion $0.95
1 bunch of organic cilantro $0.99
Head of garlic $0.50
¼ pound whole raw cashews $2.50
Cost Effectiveness of WFPB Diet
Do you see the differences? Meat and dairy products are far more expensive than fresh whole foods. And, meat and dairy are packed full of cholesterol and saturated fat.
A vegan diet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy diet. There are plenty of processed plant based meat and dairy alternatives. And those too are expensive and highly processed.
So not only is the WFPB diet better for our health, but it’s less expensive; and this list includes mostly organic products. Plus, look at how much food was purchased! As an added bonus, the WFPB grocery list includes all the colors of the rainbow. 🤗
Additionally, you must consider the healthcare costs. If you follow a mostly WFPB diet, chances are, on average you will be healthier and require fewer prescription medications and medical interventions.
Plants Over Pills
In all honesty, writing articles like this makes my blood boil! (And probably increases my blood pressure! 😫) The corruption in our own government and the influence of the meat and dairy industry is infuriating!
Not only does the meat and dairy industry have a stronghold in government, but the healthcare system benefits as well from all of us remaining sick. They don’t make money if we all eat healthy and need minimal medical intervention. The pharmaceutical companies stop making billions of dollars if we improve our health and eliminate the need for most medications.
As always, consult with your physician.
Even if you decide not to convert to a fully vegan diet, what are some healthy changes you want to make? What are some goals that you have? Leave your comments below, then be sure to subscribe to the mailing list! 😍
And remember: the goal is plants over pills! 🌱