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Should I be on a low-fat diet if I have high blood pressure?

Brian Tanzer
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

If one has high blood pressure, it is more likely related to body fat, sodium intake and lack of exercise than it is consuming too much fat in the diet. The one thing to be cautious of when following a typical low fat food is not getting enough of the important healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, certain nuts and seeds, avocado and others) and polyunsaturated fats (unprocessed sunflower oil and omega-3 fats from fish). These fats, particularly the omega-3 fats found in fish have been shown in numerous studies to contribute to a normal, healthy blood pressure. These fats perform many important functions related to blood pressure. They increase the production of nitric oxide (a biochemical made by the body that helps relax blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure).

So the bottom line is, a low-fat diet is unlikely to have an impact on high blood pressure, unless of course one is consuming excess saturated and trans fats as well as excess calories and is carrying excess body fat, then consuming less fat can provide some benefit. I believe, and the research shows, that it's more important to consume the right fats, particularly the omega-3 fats found in fish and fish oil supplements to support a healthy blood pressure than it is to consume a low fat diet.

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist
It is not low fat that is important but the kind of fat you eat that counts. A healthy diet needs fat for satiety and nutrients. Healthy monounsaturated fats like avocado, seeds, and nuts help keep arteries pliable which is so Important in blood pressure control.
Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A low fat diet can be beneficial for those with cardiac disease. If your goal is to lower your blood pressure the most effective way using food would be to reduce your sodium intake. Watch out for high sodium foods when dining out, pre-packed foods like canned foods, soups, seasonings and jar items such as pickles and olives. Prepare your own food and don't forget to utilize My Plate Method - making sure 1/2 your plate is fruits and vegetables, 1/4 plate is lean proteins and 1/4 plate whole grains.

Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

It would be better to be on a low sodium diet to lower blood pressure. A low fat diet is usually prescribed to lower cholesterol. Water follows sodium, so eating a lot of salty food could cause bloating and increase blood pressure. If you have blood pressure, limit sodium to 1,500 mg a day. Read labels and watch canned food, processed food, frozen food and restaurant foods. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables high in potassium. 

Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Reducing fat intake is helpful those controlling blood pressure. It is suggested to increase the consumption of high potassium foods (fruits and vegetables) to really help bring blood pressure down. The DASH diet is a great program to help control blood pressure. It has sample menus and great info on how to meet your blood pressure goals.

Dr. Sasson E. Moulavi, MD
General Practitioner

The answer is simple and complicated at the same time. High blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke that can be improved by dieting. If you are overweight, lose weight. You can still eat a diet that has a normal amount of fat as long as it’s the right fat. Fish oil, olive oil, canola oil, flax seed oil. Are all good fats (monounsaturated) that are good for you in general and especially if you have high blood pressure. Animal fat, Lard, vegetable shortening and “bad“ fats should be kept to a minimum. In my house we only have canola and olive oil. 

Dr. Annemarie Colbin, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

If you have high blood pressure, it's important to eat plenty of fresh (not canned or frozen) fruits and vegetables. It's also good to avoid fried foods and heavy meat dishes, as well as overly salted foods. "Low fat" often means processed products that imitate fattier ones, and those are never a good choice. You do need some good quality fat in your diet for several reasons: 

  1. to help absorb the fat-soluble vitamins;  
  2. to make the food tasty; and
  3. to create satiety. Remember that the standard recommendations are 30% of your calories should come from fat.

This makes physiological sense. If you go to 25% is good enough, but less can be problematic. Avoid commercial fats. Stick to extra virgin olive oil, unrefined sesame or coconut oil, nuts, avocado, and the fats from healthy animals such as wild fish and small amounts of organically raised poultry and meats.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Part of the treatment for high blood pressure may include making changes to your diet, such as reducing the sodium you consume. But consuming less sodium (a component of salt) isn't the only dietary change to focus on. Reducing the saturated fat in your diet may help as well -- and will certainly help protect your heart in other ways. The proven DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet calls for reducing not only sodium but also saturated fat and cholesterol.

Of course some fats are a necessary part of a heart healthy diet. Shift your focus to healthy fats such as olive oil as well as fats from nuts, fish, and avocado, which benefit the heart. When it comes to dairy products, choose the fat-free or low-fat versions of your favorites like milk and yogurt.

Dr. Alan Gaby
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The amount of fat in the diet appears to be much less important than the type of fat consumed and the overall quality of the diet. Fats that appear to be harmful include trans fats and heated polyunsaturated fatty acids (as in cooking at high temperatures with sunflower, safflower, soy, corn, or canola oil).

The relationship between saturated fat and heart disease is complicated and controversial. Saturated fat per se does not seem to be particularly harmful, as suggested by the observation that Polynesian people eat large amounts of saturated fat (mainly from coconut oil), but have a low incidence of heart disease. However, certain foods that are high in saturated fat may promote the development of heart disease for reasons unrelated to their saturated fat content. For example, advanced glycation end products and cholesterol oxides (both of which promote the development of atherosclerosis) are formed during cooking and processing of foods such as beef and dairy products. As is likely the case with dietary cholesterol, the effect of saturated fat-containing foods on heart disease risk may depend as much or more on how the foods are prepared as on the amount of saturated fat they contain.

These points are discussed further in my textbook, Nutritional Medicine (www.doctorgaby.com).

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner
If you have high blood pressure being on a low-fat diet lowers the changes of plaque build up on your vessels which lowers your susceptibility to have strokes and heart attacks. It would be of great benefit to be on a low-fat diet if you have high blood pressure.
In addition to the weight loss benefit, reducing saturated fats and especially trans-fats will benefit your heart and blood vessels. Because your circulatory system is already under increased stress from high blood pressure, extra strain can be hard for your body to handle. The balanced high blood pressure diet should include moderate amounts of healthy fats (i.e. plant oils like olive, canola, and peanut), and very sparse amounts of saturated and trans-fats (red meat, fast food).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.