By Contributor Janet Brancato, MS, RDN
The Mediterranean diet has long been identified as a heart healthy diet. But what about blood pressure? Left uncontrolled, high blood pressure can damage the heart. Fortunately, previous studies have shown that olive oil, a main component of the diet, is associated with a lower incidence of high blood pressure. Now a new study is showing that individuals who followed a Mediterranean diet had lower blood pressure and improved endothelial function after 6 months. The endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels, which helps control blood pressure, and acts as a barrier between the vessel and surrounding tissue.
In the intervention trial, the researchers studied the effects of adhering to a Mediterranean diet for 6 months in older, healthy Australians. In the study a total of 166 men and women over 64 years old were designated to follow either a Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) or continue their regular diet (HabDiet) for 6 months. The MedDiet included Mediterranean rich foods like plant foods, extra virgin olive oil, with minimal red meat and processed foods.
Participants monitored their blood pressure at home on 5 continuous days starting at baseline, 3 months, and 6 months. Endothelial function was also checked by flow mediated dilatation (a non-invasive test to assess vascular endothelial function) at baseline and 6 months. The use of 3-day food records was used to survey the dietary habits and choices of participants.
The Mediterranean diet compared to the HabDiet, resulted in lower systolic blood pressure (the top number of blood pressure which reflects the pressure in arteries when the heart contracts) at 3 and 6 months. Endothelial function was also improved following the Mediterranean diet.
Blood Pressure Lowering Foods
Apart from olive oil which appears to have beneficial effects on blood pressure due likely to the polyphenols it contains, the diet also includes foods rich in potassium (an important mineral that maintains fluid balance, and is necessary for heart health). Potassium rich foods are also known to help improve blood pressure by ridding the body of excess sodium.
*And don’t forget to add olive oil to your veggies, research shows that adding olive oil to vegetables helps protect against hypertension.