Plant-based diets & blood pressure

by Karen Pullen

What is Blood Pressure? With each contraction of your powerful heart muscle, blood surges through your arteries, veins, and capillaries, pressing against blood vessel walls. The walls expand then relax, expand then relax, with every heartbeat. 

That’s why blood pressure measurements come in two numbers: the force against the artery wall when the heart is pushing blood through it (systolic pressure), and the force between beats (diastolic pressure). 

Ideally, your blood pressure should be around 110/70. There’s an exponential increase in risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease as pressures go up, starting from around 110/70. But most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even if it’s reached dangerously high levels. So, it’s important to check it regularly.

Health Concerns. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is of great concern. If the blood vessels are narrowed, or stiffened with sclerosis, the heart works extra-hard and less efficiently. Over time, the force and friction of high blood pressure damages the insides of the arteries, cholesterol plaques form along those tiny tears, and arteries become narrower. Blood pressure rises even higher. It’s a vicious circle.

Hypertension is a killer. It increases your risk of dying from heart attack and stroke while also causing kidney failure, vision loss, memory loss, and dementia. 

Medications. The threshold for medical treatment is 130/80—and about 2/3 of Americans over the age of 45 qualify. Medications often act on the processes that relax and open up the blood vessels. Others decrease blood volume by reducing the heart rate or ridding the body of excess water. Side effects may include weakness, leg cramps, insomnia, skin rash, hacking cough, impotence, swollen ankles, impaired cognition. Dizziness is a common side effect. 

Lifestyle Changes. But blood pressure can be lowered without drugs. Recommendations include regular aerobic exercise, weight loss, quitting smoking, increasing dietary fiber intake, decreasing alcoholic beverage intake, consumption of a more plant-based diet, and cutting down on salt. These lifestyle interventions can actually work better than drugs, because you’re treating the cause, and have instead good side effects. 

Plant-Based Diets. Many population studies have reached the same conclusion: the closer you eat to a plant-based diet, the lower your blood pressure. Conversely, there’s a positive association between animal flesh consumption and hypertension risk. These findings are consistent across multiple studies: plant-based diets have a meaningful effect on both prevention and treatment of hypertension.

Why would plant-based nutrition lead to a decrease in blood pressure? More antioxidants and less inflammation mean less damage to blood vessels. The blood is less viscous, easier to pump. The gut microbiome, which regulates complex biological processes, is different in vegans. Vegans consume more fiber and are less likely to be overweight. All of these factors contribute to lower blood pressure.

So, next time you hanker for a burger, try this recipe. I keep a stash of these no-oil, no-salt “possible burgers” in my freezer.

Karen Pullen is an instructor of Food for Life courses in healthy eating. She is certified in plant-based nutrition and plant-based cooking. See

Possible” Burger (makes 8 large burgers)


  • 2 cups cooked short grain brown rice 
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup finely diced each: celery, onions, cremini mushrooms, walnuts, jalapeno
  • ½ cup catsup, BBQ sauce, or tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon each: garlic powder and onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon each: smoked paprika and ground black pepper


  •  Place beans in a large bowl and mash
  • Add all remaining ingredients.
  • Mix ingredients (by hand) and work like a meatloaf.
  • Divide into 8 and form into patties.
  • Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes on each side.