Nearly a third of American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Often called the “silent killer” because it provides few warning signs, hypertension increases a patient’s risk for heart attack and stroke. New research suggests eating a vegetarian diet could help combat this deadly disease. A healthy blood pressure is 120/80 mm HG. Previous studies have shown that each increase of 20/10 mm Hg in that number doubles the patient’s risk of cardiovascular disease. But lowering that top number just 5 mm HG can reduce your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease by about 7%. And eating more fruits and vegetables may be a good way to do that, according to the new study, published Monday in the scientific journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
In seven clinical trials, participants following a vegetarian diet had a systolic blood pressure that was 4.8 mm Hg lower on average than their omnivore counterparts’. The vegetarians’ diastolic blood pressure was lower by an average of 2.2 mm Hg. In observational studies, the difference was slightly bigger. A vegetarian diet was associated with an average decrease of 6.9 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure and 4.7 mm HG for diastolic blood pressure. Many factors could be affecting the vegetarians’ blood pressure. Vegetarian diets are often lower in sodium and saturated fats, while being higher in fiber and potassium.
Vegetarians also tend to have lower body mass indexes because fruits and vegetables are less energy dense – meaning you can eat more of them for fewer calories. The definition of a “vegetarian diet” differs from person to person, so the researchers can’t tell you how much meat is too much. Some of the observational studies also did not adjust for lifestyle factors such as exercise or alcohol intake that could have affected the results. Eating more fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet could help lower your blood pressure, says study author Dr. Neal Barnard. You should also try to limit your sodium intake, exercise regularly and avoid drinking alcohol excessively.