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By: Adebowale Bello, Freelance Health Writer with editorial contribution by The Datelinehealth Africa Team.
Food is vital to your existence and apart from the nourishment and sustenance which you derive from it, when meals are prepared properly, the mouth watering aroma and delicious taste can bring you great pleasure and satisfaction.
Apart from providing nourishment to your body, food also helps to repair your body tissues, maintain your immune system and prevent or manage chronic conditions.
Hypertension (High blood pressure) is one of those conditions that can be managed effectively through diet control.
Click on image to enlarge
In this article we'll discuss foods and fruits common to Africans that can play important roles in lowering hypertension (high blood pressure).
The abundance of nutrients in the African diet makes it one of the healthiest diets as it contains a wide variety of exquisite food such as leafy green vegetables, root tubers, legumes, rice and other whole grains. The nutrients contained in these different foods are essential for optimal health.
Just like every other healthy diet, there are several benefits derived from consuming the African diet which include:
There are also several dietary tips you should prioritize as you aim to manage hypertension through diet control.
According to the World Health Organization, you need less than 5g of salt daily which is less than a teaspoon yet Africans consume two times more salt than is recommended and this is the leading dietary cause of hypertension.(1)
Several studies have also shown that Africans are at more risk of hypertension than other races due to a combination of several factors.(2)
Research has shown that alcohol induces hypertension and though moderation is encouraged, many people abuse alcohol. Alcohol induces hypertension by narrowing the blood vessels and forcing the heart to work harder.(3)
A reduction in alcohol intake would lead to a drop in your blood pressure levels and a lower risk of other associated medical conditions.(4)
With the increase in highly processed foods, obesity has constantly been on the rise prompting the World Health Organization to release a report in 2022 which showed a 16-31% increase in obesity prevalence while Africa is home to more than 24% of the world's overweight children under age 5.(5)
Maintaining a healthy body weight can be achieved by regular exercise, a lower consumption of processed foods which you can replace by eating more fruits and vegetables
With the variety of foods available in the traditional African diet you might have a hard time knowing what foods are best for you if you live with hypertension.
Dr Nsisong Asanga, a public health physician and health writer in Nigeria, comments that "there is no typical pan-African food which can be consumed for hypertension control because food practices vary from one part of the continent to another."
Dr Semiya Aziz, a general practitioner at the Chase Lodge Hospital, London explains further that "a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes and low-fat dairy can benefit people with high blood pressure.
These heart healthy foods contain nutrients like potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber and protein that can help reduce blood pressure.
They also contain compounds like Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) inhibitory peptides, vitamins C and E, flavonoids, and polyphenols that can lower blood pressure in different ways."
Let's have a look at some foods which may be helpful in the control of hypertension.
In many African homes, beans have become a mainstay and that is due to many nutritious reasons. They contain essential nutrients like fibre, protein and potassium which may aid in controlling hypertension.
Other notable nutrients that can be found in beans include magnesium and iron which help in managing other medical conditions.
As an important food crop, sweet potatoes are packed with a lot of bioactive compounds. As a result, sweet potatoes are important in the management and control of a wide variety of diseases.
The sweet potato leaves are also of nutritious value as they contain antioxidants and naturally occurring compounds known as polyphenols (6) which may help to manage hypertension.(7)
This superfood consists of a variety of nutrients which are heart healthy such as fibre, unsaturated fats and protein.
Oats contain a generous amount of beta glucan which helps to reduce cholesterol absorption and improve your overall heart health. They also contain potassium and other nutrients which are vital in managing hypertension.(8)
The presence of omega-3 fatty acid qualifies fatty fish to be a part of this list. Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that reduce inflammation and ensure healthy blood flow.
Studies have shown that regular consumption of fatty fish can help reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number) by up to 5 mmHg, which can be significant for people with hypertension.
Some common examples of fatty fish include salmon , tuna, sardines and mackerel.
Yogurt (or “Wara” in Yoruba, “Mgando” in Swahili, “Iyogathi” in Zulu) has been reported to have positive effects on those living with hypertension. (15) This is due to its high content of minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are thought to help lower blood pressure.
Yogurt is also known to contain bacteria that promote the release of proteins which lower blood pressure.
If you are a fan, the unsweetened natural yogurts are fantastic and you can top them up with fruits, seeds, and nuts for a healthy nutritious breakfast or snack.
The African continent is home to a variety of fruits and the rich blend of colours and shapes is adequately matched by the nutritional value packed in these creative wonders.
Dr Nsisong adds "try eating more fruits and vegetables especially those that contain fibre as it helps with blood cholesterol and digestion."
Some of these fruits may play a role in managing hypertension and Dr Aziz gives us some insights into various fruits which you can add to your diet to manage hypertension.
Strawberries and blueberries are rich in antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins (ACN). Anthocyanins have been observed to reduce the production of any molecules which could make blood vessels narrow.
Berries also contain condensed tannins and ellagic acid which along with anthocyanins may be effective in hypertension control.(9)
They have always been a worldwide delicacy and can either be consumed fresh or in its processed form. One important part of the fruit that contains heart healthy nutrients are the fruit peels.
Research has shown that these peels contain numerous bioactive compounds such as vitamins, fibre and polyphenols which may help in managing hypertension.(10)
This list would be incomplete without the popular citrus family and it is ably represented by the sweet orange and grapefruit which have been found to contain hesperidin and naringin, these compounds are both antioxidants that help in hypertension control.(11)
The consumption of commercially processed sweet orange juice has also been reported to decrease blood pressure levels.(11)
A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension highlighted watermelon as an effective fruit in the management of hypertension. (12)
It contains nutrients such as citrulline, potassium and lycopene which are useful in reducing blood pressure.(13)
This delicious fruit is a bundle of nutrients and it is a major source of potassium in diets which can help manage hypertension.(14)
"Two or three banana fingers daily should be enough" says Dr Nsisong but people who have been placed on a diet should consult with their doctor first to know if they can consume bananas because of the calories contained in them.
Other notable fruits include
Africa is home to an abundant variety of vegetables which are full of vital nutrients and some of them may possess nutrients that could help in hypertension management. Below, we take a look at some of them.
It is said to contain nutrients like fibre, potassium and several antioxidants which may help in hypertension management and though extremely nutritious, it should be consumed in moderation.
Varieties of African vegetables. Click on image to enlarge
Other vegetables that you may help in hypertension control include:
Note that many of the African foods, fruits and vegetables listed above fit into the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the African Heritage diet guidelines respectively. The DASH diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering high blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels.
We have discussed African foods that can help to lower your blood pressure. What about foods to avoid if you live with hypertension?
Here is a list of foods that you should avoid completely or consume in moderate quantities.
If you're looking to manage your hypertension through diet, Dr Aziz comments that ‘’there is no particular food type that can reduce blood pressure but rather it is a combination of foods alongside healthy lifestyle measures.’’
Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, limit sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and foods high in saturated fats and oils while exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.
1. World Health Organization.(2020). Salt reduction. April 29, 2020. Accessed May 4,2023.
2. Lindhorst J, Alexander N, Blignaut J, Rayner B. Differences in hypertension between blacks and whites: an overview. Cardiovasc J Afr. 2007 Jul-Aug;18(4):241-7. PMID: 17940670; PMCID: PMC4170224.
3. Husain K, Ansari RA, Ferder L. Alcohol-induced hypertension: Mechanism and prevention. World J Cardiol. 2014 May 26;6(5):245-52. doi: 10.4330/wjc.v6.i5.245. PMID: 24891935; PMCID: PMC4038773.
4. Roerecke M, Kaczorowski J, Tobe SW, Gmel G, Hasan OSM, Rehm J. The effect of a reduction in alcohol consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Public Health. 2017 Feb;2(2):e108-e120. doi: 10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30003-8. Epub 2017 Feb 7. PMID: 29253389; PMCID: PMC6118407.
5. World Health Organization. Obesity rising in Africa, WHO analysis finds WHO Regional Office for Africa. March 2, 2022. Accessed May 2,2023.
6. Nguyen HC, Chen CC, Lin KH, Chao PY, Lin HH, Huang MY. Bioactive Compounds, Antioxidants, and Health Benefits of Sweet Potato Leaves. Molecules. 2021 Mar 24;26(7):1820. doi: 10.3390/molecules26071820. PMID: 33804903; PMCID: PMC8038024.
7. Grosso G, Godos J, Currenti W, Micek A, Falzone L, Libra M, Giampieri F, Forbes-Hernández TY, Quiles JL, Battino M, La Vignera S, Galvano F. The Effect of Dietary Polyphenols on Vascular Health and Hypertension: Current Evidence and Mechanisms of Action. Nutrients. 2022 Jan 27;14(3):545. doi: 10.3390/nu14030545. PMID: 35276904; PMCID: PMC8840535.
8. Bouchard J, Valookaran AF, Aloud BM, Raj P, Malunga LN, Thandapilly SJ, Netticadan T. Impact of oats in the prevention/management of hypertension. Food Chemistry, Volume 381. 2022,132198,ISSN 0308-8146, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2022.132198.
9. Vendrame S, Adekeye TE, Klimis-Zacas D. The Role of Berry Consumption on Blood Pressure Regulation and Hypertension: An Overview of the Clinical Evidence. Nutrients. 2022 Jun 29;14(13):2701. doi: 10.3390/nu14132701. PMID: 35807881; PMCID: PMC9268395.
10. Mo Y, Ma J, Gao W, Zhang L, Li J, Li J, Zang J. Pomegranate Peel as a Source of Bioactive Compounds: A Mini Review on Their Physiological Functions. Front Nutr. 2022 Jun 9;9:887113. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.887113. PMID: 35757262; PMCID: PMC9218663.
11. Asgary S, Keshvari M. Effects of Citrus sinensis juice on blood pressure. ARYA Atheroscler. 2013 Jan;9(1):98-101. PMID: 23696766; PMCID: PMC3653258.
12. Arturo Figueroa, Alexei Wong, Roy Kalfon, Effects of Watermelon Supplementation on Aortic Hemodynamic Responses to the Cold Pressor Test in Obese Hypertensive Adults, American Journal of Hypertension, Volume 27, Issue 7, July 2014, Pages 899–906. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajh/hpt295.
13. Eating well. The #1 Food to Eat to Lower Blood Pressure, According to a Dietitian. September 16, 2020. Accessed May 5,2023.
14. American Heart Association, Don't go bananas – but maybe eat one. April 20, 2022. Accessed May 5,2023.
15. Wade AT, Guenther BA, Ahmed FS, Elias MF. Higher yogurt intake is associated with lower blood pressure in hypertensive individuals: Cross-sectional findings from the Maine–Syracuse longitudinal study. International Dairy Journal, 2021; 122: 105-159. DOI: 10.1016/j.idairyj.2021.105109
Published: May 22, 2023
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