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A close-up of someone getting their blood pressure checked
A close-up of someone getting their blood pressure checked

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects a third of American adults and is one of the primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

There are many factors that can lead to high blood pressure, and while sugar consumption can be a controversial topic, it’s important to be aware of the effects it can have on your overall health. Many studies have linked excess added sugar consumption to high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease.

Environmental and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise levels can all play a key role in ensuring good metabolic health. Understanding the effects of nutrition in preventing the onset of these conditions.

So, how exactly does sugar impact blood pressure and how much is safe to consume? Read on to find out.

The Impact Sugar Has on Blood Pressure

Studies have shown that blood pressure is closely linked to diet and lifestyle factors. While many factors can play a role, high sugar consumption and excessive sodium intake have both been found to negatively impact blood pressure in healthy adults.

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that is found naturally in fruit. However, it can also be added into things like fruit juice, soda, sweets, and other snack foods. While both types of sugar can be included in a balanced diet, added sugar is not essential for survival and is often referred to as an “empty carb.”

The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day for women and nine for men. However, when it comes to blood pressure, it seems that the source of sugar you consume can dictate the effects on your health.

Combined data from over 12 studies illustrates that beverages high in added sugar are associated with an increase in blood pressure. However, sugar from whole food sources such as fruit may not have the same impact.

In fact, one study suggested this when the authors found that fruit consumption was associated with lowered (and improved) blood pressure in females. Scientists recommend increasing fruit consumption to support cardiovascular health.

However, since many of these studies were primarily observational, more research is needed to determine causal relationships between fruit consumption and cardiovascular disease.

Other Factors that Raise Blood Pressure

putting salt on a plate of vegetables

Along with sugar consumption, there are other nutritional and lifestyle factors that contribute to high blood pressure. Let’s dig into some of the most common ones and discuss different ways you can decrease your risk of developing this condition.

Eating Too Much Salt

Excessive sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure in numerous studies. When you consume salt, your body holds onto more fluid, which can naturally increase your blood pressure by increasing the serum volume. As one common expression suggests, “where sodium goes, water follows.

”Though the CDC guidelines recommend less than 2,300 milligrams per day for sodium intake, this recommendation is still debated by scientists, and some have suggested that it is reasonable to instead aim for a target of less than 5,000 milligrams per day.

If you’re unsure how to monitor your sodium intake, diet tracking apps are a great place to start. You can also ask your nutritionist or dietitian to help you determine what a healthy sodium intake looks like for you.

You Aren’t Getting Enough Exercise

Low exercise levels may lead to poor glycemic control, diabetes, obesity, and other health consequences, all of which can contribute to high blood pressure if left unaddressed over time.

Finding the right amount and types of exercise that work best for your body can help with weight management and strengthen your heart, both of which are important for cardiovascular health and optimal blood pressure.

Luckily, there are lots of ways to increase your physical activity (from hiking to lifting weights, or even gardening!), and you can find the option that best fits into your lifestyle. Even walking is also a great way to get your heart rate up and get moving throughout the day.

Genetic Factors—You Have a Relative With High Blood Pressure

two older adults checking blood pressure

While lifestyle and environmental factors can play a vital role in the presence of abnormal blood pressure, other research suggests that genetics can also be to blame.

Studies have shown that hypertension can be inherited due to certain genetic mutations that can be passed down through generations. However, taking steps like exercising, assessing sodium and sugar intake, and maintaining a healthy weight are all things that can help regulate your blood pressure if abnormal levels run in your family.

You Have Sleep Apnea or Disturbed Sleep

Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder that involves interrupted sleep. In sleep apnea, your body stops breathing for a period of time before starting again. This typically happens multiple times throughout the night.

The constant stress activation that can be caused by interrupted sleep can create inflammation in the body. Individuals with sleep apnea may have an increased risk of developing health issues such as hypertension, obesity, and other cardiovascular issues like heart disease.

You Drink Too Much Alcohol or Caffeine

It’s no surprise that alcohol can have an effect on your blood pressure. Interestingly, research shows that alcohol initially decreases your blood pressure upon consumption. However, after about 12 hours, it increases your blood pressure levels.

Though the CDC’s generalized guidelines recommend limiting alcohol to two drinks per day for men and one for women and caffeine intake to two to three drinks per day, some people may find they tolerate less. Customizing this recommendation based on your body’s individual response may be necessary.

While coffee and other caffeinated beverages can be heart healthy, the American College of Cardiology recommends limiting your caffeine intake to two to three cups to reduce the risk of heart disease and abnormal heart rhythms.

Which is Worse for Blood Pressure, Sugar or Salt?

a plate of dark chocolate

When it comes to the effects of excess sodium and excess added sugar on blood pressure, it’s hard to determine which may have a more harmful impact.

Risk levels for each individual may also vary depending on their genetics and lifestyle. Striving to eat a balanced diet with the recommended amounts of both salt and sugar and getting plenty of exercise are both effective ways to reduce your risk.

If you need more guidance on nutrition based on your individual health needs, consult a dietitian or nutritionist before making significant changes to your diet.

Foods That Can Help Lower Blood Pressure


someone chopping some vegetables

Generally, an increased intake of vegetables, from leafy greens like celery to cruciferous veggies, can improve blood pressure.

A study conducted on Chinese women showed that consuming cruciferous vegetables can also reduce inflammation. In this study, the authors found eating more of these vegetables was associated with lowered levels of inflammatory molecules and decreased oxidative stress.

Another study found that consuming at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables daily was found to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. By reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, these foods can benefit heart health and lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Whole Grains

According to the American Heart Association, whole-grain options can support better heart health. Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which can benefit heart health by improving cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

However, some individuals with poor glycemic control may find their blood pressure benefits from limiting carbohydrates in general. This is because poor glycemic control, over time, can contribute to poor blood pressure levels.

High Magnesium Foods 

two bags of lentils and legumes

Magnesium can help regulate blood pressure, so consuming this nutrient through the following foods can help keep your blood pressure levels in a healthy range:

  • White beans (legumes in general)
  • Spinach 
  • Fish such as halibut
  • Seeds and nuts

High Potassium Foods 

Similarly to magnesium rich foods, potassium-rich foods have been linked to lower blood pressure. Potassium can be found in foods like:

Foods High in Omega 3 Fatty Acids

a plate of salmon toast

Seafood in the SMASH category (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring) are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which give these fish their cardiovascular-protective benefits.

According to the American Heart Association, omega-3s can boost heart health by improving blood lipid, or blood fat, levels like triglycerides and reducing plaque build-up, which can improve blood pressure.

Omega-3s also have antioxidant properties that reduce inflammation and support cardiovascular function, which can also support healthy blood pressure levels.

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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.

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