Health & Wellness

5 foods to help manage your blood pressure

About 75 million Americans over age 18 — that’s 29 percent of us — have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another way to look at it: one in three adults has hypertension!

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Cocoa powder, spinach, more: 5 foods to help manage blood pressure

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Cocoa powder, spinach, more: 5 foods to help manage blood pressure

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Fortunately, a review of 98 studies (and nearly 8,000 people) found that you can significantly drive down your blood pressure numbers by eating well and exercising. And lucky for us, there are some effective and tasty food fixes. Let’s take a look:

1. Cocoa powder

Everyone is sweet on dark chocolate, and why not? It’s both delish and health-promoting. But cocoa powder is the real hero: It’s 100 percent cocoa and contains a hearty dose of flavanols, the plant-based nutrients responsible for helping to reduce blood pressure by opening up blood vessels and allowing blood to flow more easily.

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StartTODAY: Craig Melvin commits to less meat, more vegetables

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StartTODAY: Craig Melvin commits to less meat, more vegetables

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RELATED: 5 foods to help you lower your cholesterol

There are so many creative ways to use cocoa powder and reap the benefits. Try adding a dash to your morning coffee or bowl of oatmeal. Stir some into your favorite smoothie or try this chocolate-ricotta toast recipe.

2. Spinach

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Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse!

This super green is loaded with not one, not two, but THREE blood-pressure-lowering ingredients, making it a true triple threat. Those three nutrients are potassium, folate and magnesium.

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Try Joy Bauer's sweet potato toast to replace high-calorie bagels

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Try Joy Bauer's sweet potato toast to replace high-calorie bagels

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Potassium helps to release sodium (and fluid) from the body to lower blood pressure. Magnesium enables our tiny blood vessels to relax, helping to maintain elasticity and normal blood flow. And folate, a B-vitamin (B9), acts like a “heart-healthy soldier” by helping to break down homocysteine, an amino acid that has the potential to damage inner artery walls.

Grilled Salmon with White Bean and Spinach Salad
Grilled Salmon with White Bean and Spinach Salad
Nathan Congleton / TODAY
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Blend a handful of spinach into smoothies (your kids or finicky spouse will never know). Try this recipe or make my spinach turkey burgers.

3. Garlic

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If you can manage the stench, garlic is a great addition to your diet.

This kitchen staple does more than add flavor to dishes. It can also help manage blood pressure, thanks to its high content of allicin, a compound that protects against endothelial dysfunction, a condition that affects the lining of the blood vessels and can lead to hypertension, among other diseases.

And according to studies, unlike medications and supplements, garlic offers these blood-pressure-lowering benefits without any side effects, except a potent garlic smell — nothing a good strong breath mint can’t fix.

RELATED: What helps garlic breath?

30 Garlic Clove Chicken
30 garlic clove chicken
Nathan Congleton / TODAY
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4. Great Northern Beans

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All beans contain fiber, protein and iron — nutrients that work to keep your heart healthy because they aid in weight control, reduce cholesterol and provide magnesium and potassium, two blood pressure helpers. But white beans are the better bean in this case, because they also chip in calcium. Calcium plays an important role in managing blood pressure because it helps blood vessels tighten and relax when necessary.

RELATED: Plant-based protein: 5 sources to add to your diet

Note: If you’re choosing canned beans, look for lower sodium varieties or you can simply rinse beans in a colander under running cold water to remove as much salt as possible.

Try this sneaky "cream" of broccoli soup!

Classic Beef Chili with Beans
Danny Seo's Classic Beef Chilli
Nathan R. Congleton / TODAY
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5. Pumpkin

For many of us, the most exciting part of the fall season is the arrival of pumpkin. The super food (which is actually available year round in canned form) is loaded with potassium. Potassium, as mentioned above, helps to flush out excess sodium and fluid, easing pressure on the arterial walls.

I love to experiment with all sorts of delicious — and sometimes downright crazy — pumpkin concoctions. Try my simple and slimming pumpkin pudding. And if you’re up for an adventure, try these pumpkin meatballs. Seriously, they’re yummy — I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Pumpkin Apple Bread
Katie Ledecky's favorite Pumpkin Apple Bread
Casey Barber / Casey Barber
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