It’s clear that diet plays a role in how healthy you are and your risk of disease. It even impacts factors like your blood glucose and blood lipid levels. What you eat also affects your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and even your blood pressure. In fact, some people with mild hypertension can control their pressure through a healthy diet and lifestyle without taking blood pressure-lowering medications.
Protein, and its component amino acids, is the macronutrient we need to build and repair muscle. We use the amino acids from protein to make antibodies, synthesize enzymes, maintain a healthy fluid volume, and build critical components like hemoglobin that carry blood and oxygen throughout the body. The amount of dietary protein that’s optimal for health isn’t clear and it varies based on age and activity level. But how does dietary protein affect your blood pressure and does the type of protein you eat matter for blood pressure control?
Protein and Blood Pressure
Can adding more protein to your diet lower your blood pressure? A study published in the journal Circulation found that consuming a diet higher in protein modestly reduces systolic blood pressure, a measure of the force against the arterial wall when the heart contracts. For the study, subjects consumed either milk protein, soy protein as a replacement for some high-glycemic, processed carbs for 8 weeks. The third group, the control group, consumed a carbohydrate supplement as opposed to protein. When they compared their blood pressure readings, they found that the two groups who consumed either protein enjoyed a 2-3 mm. drop in systolic blood pressure.
In the study, both soy and milk protein dropped blood pressure relative to carbohydrates and there was no difference between the dairy and soy protein. The researchers concluded that replacing some carbohydrates with protein could be beneficial for blood pressure control. Although the drop in pressure was modest, it’s enough to potentially keep someone off blood pressure medication if the elevation is mild.
Are Some Types of Protein Better for Blood Pressure?
Protein comes in two main types: Animal-based and plant-based. Animal protein includes meat and dairy while plant-based protein encompasses a variety of plant-based foods. Some of the best sources of plant-based protein are soy, like tofu and tempeh, other beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flaxseed. Even common vegetables, like broccoli and spinach, contain protein. So, there’s no shortage of protein sources in the plant world.
Is plant-based protein better for your blood pressure than animal-based? Several studies show that people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet have a lower blood pressure than those who eat a diet heavy in animal-based foods. In fact, a large trial called the Nurse’s Health Study found that participants who consumed more animal foods, including processed meat, red meat, and poultry had a higher risk of hypertension. In contrast, the Adventist Health Study 2 found that vegetarians and vegans had a lower risk of developing hypertension and had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings on average.
Therefore, consuming more protein and a higher ratio of plant-based to animal-based foods is one dietary habit that could be of benefit if you have hypertension or are at risk of developing it. Plus, a diet rich in plant-based foods and high in fiber may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease too.
Don’t Forget about Potassium!
Another way that plant-based foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, may lower blood pressure is because fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of potassium, a mineral important for blood pressure control and blood vessel health. Plus, leafy greens are rich in magnesium too, another mineral vital for heart health.
Finally, a diet rich in plant-based protein and plant-based foods may help with weight control. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, but not dense in calories. Therefore, you can eat larger amounts without accruing too many calories. In fact, studies show that people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet are leaner.
Some vegetables, like beets, are also high in natural nitrates that are converted to nitric oxide, a gas that helps expand arteries and reduce blood pressure. One study showed that drinking a glass of beetroot juice daily led to an average drop in systolic blood pressure of 8 points.
The Bottom Line
Increasing the ratio of protein to carbohydrates in your diet might be beneficial for your blood pressure, but the type of protein matters. The benefits are potentially greater if you choose more plant-based sources of protein and fewer animal-based ones. Plus, plants contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that may protect against cardiovascular disease.
Track your blood pressures at home too. Blood pressure readings in an office setting may be significantly higher than ones at home, as some people feel stressed when they visit their doctor. It’s also helpful to know how your blood pressure varies from morning to evening. Studies suggest that markedly higher blood pressure in the morning relative to the evening (greater than 20 mm Hg.) may be a marker of increased risk for heart attack and other cardiac events. That’s why it’s so important to check your blood pressure in the morning and in the evening.
Don’t forget about other healthy habits that help with blood pressure control. Aerobic exercise tops the list of lifestyle factors that have blood-pressure-lowering benefits. According to some studies, aerobic exercise can lower blood pressure as much as a single blood pressure medication. During and after a workout, your arteries expand to increase blood flow to the working muscles, and this lowers blood pressure. But don’t ditch your blood pressure medications. Exercise alone may not be enough to control your blood pressure. But even if diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range, these lifestyle habits will still reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
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- com. “Is Exercise As Helpful As Blood Pressure Meds?”