High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects an estimated 1.28 billion adults around the world, according to the World Health Organization. Roughly 46% of adults suffering from high blood pressure are unaware of their condition. Making simple lifestyle changes, like limiting certain foods, can lower blood pressure.

High blood pressure occurs when the pressure of blood against your artery walls is too high — this forces the heart to work harder to pump blood. It is a condition that can increase risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, aneurysm or heart failure, per the Mayo Clinic.

Limiting and removing certain foods from your diet can help manage and lower high blood pressure. Here are five foods that are bad for people with high blood pressure.

What causes high blood pressure?

There is no primary cause for high blood pressure and it is usually the result of several factors, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Common factors which often play a role in high blood pressure include unhealthy diet, eating high amounts of sodium, high consumption of alcohol and not getting enough physical exercise.

High blood pressure has few outward symptoms. For this reason, health care professionals call it “the silent killer,” because people are often unaware that they have high blood pressure, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To avoid being in the dark regarding your blood pressure status, check your blood pressure at least once every year.

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1. Salty foods

Excess salt can be detrimental to individuals who suffer from high blood pressure. Consuming roughly 1 tablespoon of salt every day is a healthy goal to aim for, per the British Heart Foundation.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that reducing daily salt intake by 1 tablespoon has the same impact as blood pressure medication.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Vanderbilt Medical Center and Northwestern Medicine observed a group of more than 200 individuals between ages 50 to 75, with a variety of blood pressure statuses — participants’ blood pressure ranged from normotension (blood pressure in normal range) to untreated hypertension.

Participants were evaluated while following their typical diet, a high sodium diet and a low sodium diet. When daily salt intake was reduced by less than 1 tablespoon, 70% to 75% of participants — including those already on blood pressure medication — experienced a reduction in blood pressure.

“The results reinforce the importance of reduction in dietary sodium intake to help control blood pressure, even among individuals taking medications for hypertension,” said co-principal investigator Norrina Allen, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It can be challenging but reducing your sodium in any amount will be beneficial.”

According to the American Heart Association, the following foods are high in sodium:

  • Burgers.
  • Pizza.
  • Tacos.
  • Sandwiches.
  • Soups.
  • Pasta.
  • Cold cuts and cured meats.
  • Canned vegetables.

To reduce sodium intake, the British Heart Foundation recommends paying close attention to food labels and selecting low sodium options when available.

“The majority of sodium in our diets comes from packaged and restaurant food (not the salt shaker) as a result of food processing. Even foods that may not taste salty can be major sources of sodium,” reports the CDC. “Foods with only moderate amounts of sodium, such as bread, can be major sources of sodium because they’re eaten so frequently.”

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2. Sugary, caffeinated drinks

Frequently drinking sugary, caffeinated beverages like soda can result in higher blood pressure.

A study from the School of Public Health at Imperial College in London evaluated the diets of more than 2,500 middle-aged adults from the U.S. and the U.K. Researchers found that those who drank more than one soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage each day had higher blood pressure than those who drank less soda. Blood pressure increased with every additional sugary drink, researchers noted.

“While having the occasional sugary beverage can be OK, drinking lots of sugar-sweetened drinks may raise blood pressure,” reports Medical News Today. “Moreover, many sugary drinks also contain caffeine, which can elevate blood pressure even more in people with severely high blood pressure.”

Drinking excess amounts of caffeinated coffee can also be dangerous for people suffering from high blood pressure. A study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people with high blood pressure who drink two or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day can double their risk of dying from heart attack or stroke.

Senior study author Dr. Hiroyasu Iso said “these findings may support the assertion that people with severe high blood pressure should avoid drinking excessive coffee.”

Healthy adults can typically consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day without negative side effects, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

“Up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. That’s roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola or two ‘energy shot’ drinks,” reports the Mayo Clinic. “Keep in mind that the actual caffeine content in beverages varies widely, especially among energy drinks.”

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3. Red meat

Eating red meat, particularly processed red meat, is associated with high blood pressure, research shows.

A study from Penn State College of Medicine found a link between those with diets were high in red and processed meats and high blood pressure. Researchers noted that those suffering from food insecurity were more likely to regularly consume red and processed meats and also more likely to suffer from high blood pressure.

“This study provides more evidence about the health hazards of eating red and processed meats in relation to hypertension and calls for increasing public awareness to limit intake, especially among those who are food insecure,” said lead investigator and assistant professor of public health sciences Laila Al-Shaar, per Penn State.

Red meat and processed red meats include:

  • Beef.
  • Pork.
  • Lamb.
  • Veal.
  • Bacon.
  • Sausage.
  • Hot dogs.
  • Lunch or deli meat.
  • Smoked meats.
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4. Ultra-processed foods

A recent analysis of 45 studies from the British Medical Journal linked frequent consumption of ultra-processed foods to dozens of adverse health consequences, including high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease. Researchers noted that the greater the intake of ultra-processed foods, the higher the risk of high blood pressure.

“Some packaged foods that might seem healthy, such as vegetable- and meat-based meals, may get much of their flavor from high levels of salt, sugar, and fat,” reports Medical News Today. “To reduce the risk of increasing blood pressure, people can limit or avoid these foods or check nutrition labels and choose only products that have a relatively low sodium content.”

According to Harvard Health, the following foods are ultra-processed:

  • Frozen meals.
  • Fast food.
  • Cold cuts.
  • Hot dogs.
  • Packaged cookies and cakes.
  • Soda.
  • Salty snacks.
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5. Alcohol

Frequently consuming large amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure, reports the American Heart Association. The association also debunked the common misconception that red wine is beneficial to heart health.

“If you drink alcohol, limit consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Generally, one drink equals a 12-ounce beer (5% content), 8-ounce malt liquor (7% content), a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor,” the American Heart Association recommends to individuals with high blood pressure.

A study from 2017 found that when individuals who typically consumed two alcoholic drinks per day reduced their alcohol intake, their blood pressure lowered significantly.

“Reduction of both alcohol consumption and blood pressure has the potential for substantial synergistic health gains in terms of morbidity, mortality, and health-care costs,” the study notes. “For heavy drinkers, a reduction in alcohol consumption to two or fewer drinks per day could be the first choice in treatment of hypertension.”

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