You Don’t Need to Be a Strict Vegan to Lower Your Blood Pressure

  • According to new research published in the Journal of Hypertension, you don’t have to adhere to a strict plant-based diet in order to keep your blood pressure in the healthy range—it’s okay to eat the occasional meat and dairy meal.
  • This type of diet boosts your consumption of fiber, potassium, antioxidants, and polyphenols, while reducing sodium overall.

    Research suggests focusing on eating mainly plant-based foods—fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains—comes with a broad range of potential benefits, including lowering your blood pressure. But could the occasional cheeseburger wipe out the benefits? Not really, a new meta analysis published in the Journal of Hypertension suggests.

    Researchers looked 41 clinical trials, involving 8,416 participants, of seven different diet types: DASH (dietary approach to stop hypertension), Mediterranean, vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, Nordic, high fiber, and high fruit and vegetable—notably, these diets included animal products in small amounts. And they found that when compared to control diets, most of these diets lowered blood pressure, with DASH having the largest effect.

    Reducing blood pressure is crucial, the researchers said, because it represents a reduction in risk related to strokes and heart attacks. However, you don’t need to be a strict vegan to do it, according to senior author Francesco Cappuccio, M.D., professor of cardiovascular medicine and epidemiology at Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick in the U.K.

    “The takeaway message is that we all need to cut the amount of red meat and dairy we eat, both for our health and to contribute to a safer and sustainable environment,” he told Bicycling. “However, you don’t need to become vegan to do so. You’ll still have benefits even if you don’t completely give up animal protein.”

    He said it’s difficult to pin down a single reason as to why the DASH diet seemed to be such a standout, but that it’s likely because the main components of the diet have each been studied independently and shown to lower blood pressure. That includes increased consumption of fiber, potassium, antioxidants, and polyphenols, while reducing sodium overall.

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    So, how many cheesesteaks can you eat and still have your blood pressure remain on the lower side? That’s another tricky question, Cappuccio said, because each person is different when it comes to dietary patterns. Also, regular physical activity like cycling can play a major part in keeping blood pressure controlled, so you may be able to eat more animal products and stay on the safe side compared to someone who’s sedentary.

    But Cappuccio advised limiting meat and dairy as much as possible, and also swapping those red meat options for chicken and fish. And, he added, you can integrate more plant-based proteins—such as lentils, soy, nutritional yeast, quinoa, sprouted grains, oatmeal, chia, wild rice, and nuts—rather than relying on animal sources to keep your protein intake up.

    Elizabeth Millard
    Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food. 

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