Mediterranean Diet May Lower Your Blood Pressure

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.

The Study

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.

Try to include a variety of these rich sources as part of your typical eating: Beans, tomatoes, peas, yogurt, greens, nuts (especially pistachios and almonds), dry figs and prunes.

Avoid highly processed foods such as breakfast cereals, cereal bars, crackers, chips, cured meats, cookies, cakes, pies

*And don’t forget to add olive oil to your veggies, research shows that adding olive oil to vegetables helps protect against hypertension.

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  1. There is so much evidence for the Mediterranean diet now and for olive oil in general. Great summary of the research and how it applies to us all.

  2. Eva Gallon says:

    It started with Dr McDougall for me too, Sally. It’s ridiculous how much even ‘good’ oils are vilified by these doctors.

  3. For me it was Dr. McDougall. Now I’m an omnivore, but it was more difficult for me to resume eating fat than animal products.

    1. Eva Gallon says:

      Registered Vegan Dietician Ginny Messina is a lot more ‘moderate’ about oils and good fats in general. Although I now follow an omnivore diet too, it’s still refreshing to read her views on the topic (sorry, don’t know how to add links here). It’s silly to me that oils have become a vegan issue lol.

  4. Eva Gallon says:

    It’s always great to read about the health benefits of consuming a little good quality olive oil; I swear I was brainwashed by the likes of Dr Caldwell Essylstyn to avoid it at all costs! 🙂

    1. My response below was supposed to be here!