You have several things you can do to improve hypertension before needing medication. Generally, advisors most commonly mention increased physical activity, weight loss, and a low sodium, low fat diet. They rarely, if ever, mention a high potassium diet. But researchers have done a great many medical studies on high potassium foods and hypertension. The best known studies involve the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, both of which have higher amounts of potassium in their meals than the usual Western diet.
Dietary Therapy Of Hypertension
You can find a nice contemporary summary of the role of dietary therapy of hypertension at N Engl J Med 2010; 362:2102-2112.
Originally, the studies on the DASH diet looked at hypertensives having one of three diets – a normal American diet, a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and one with fruits and vegetables as well as low fat dairy and low saturated and total fat. The diets kept sodium intake and body weight unchanged. After 8 weeks, the fruit and vegetable rich diet showed lower systolic blood pressure by 7.2 mm Hg and diastolic by 2.8. And the one with dairy and reduced fat showed a lowering of systolic pressure by 11.4 and diastolic by 5.5.
Later, a second DASH study looked at lower salt intake. In this case, the participants were on a regular American diet, or the DASH diet that included dairy and low fat. The study divided participants into diets that were also either high, medium or low in sodium (3.5, 2.3, or 1.2 gm per day) for a month. As a result, the lower the sodium intake was, the lower the blood pressure was. The reduced sodium diet lowered systolic pressure by 1.6 mm Hg for the 2.3 gm per day, and an additional 5.1 mm Hg for the 1.2 gm per day. Overall the systolic blood pressure dropped from 143 on the typical American diet to 128 on the lowest sodium DASH diet.
The ideal sodium intake is below 1500mg per day for an adult. Reducing dietary salt reduces the amount of sodium the kidney has to get rid of to maintain normal blood volume. And this is one factor helping to keep blood pressure normal.
Another DASH Study
To find the effect of protein and unsaturated fat on blood pressure, researchers did another DASH diet study with fewer carbohydrates than the usual DASH diet. The control group was on a DASH diet with slightly more carbohydrates. For the experimental groups, one group received a diet higher in protein and another group received a diet higher in unsaturated fat. Both groups showed lower blood pressure. The higher protein group reduced their systolic pressure by 3.5 mm Hg and diastolic by 2.4 mm Hg. The unsaturated fat group reduced these pressures by 2.9 and 1.9 compared to the normal DASH.
So at present, the best diet to improve or avoid hypertension appears to be a diet with high potassium foods, low amounts of sodium, low fat dairy, unsaturated fats, reduced amounts of carbohydrates and more protein. A list of tables showing high potassium foods and the amount of potassium they contain can be found by clicking the “Links to Food Potassium Tables” tab at the top of the page .
1. Dietary therapy in hypertension. Sacks FM, Campos H. N Engl J Med. 2010 Jun 3;362(22):2102-12. doi: 10.1056/NEJMct0911013.