High blood pressure (or hypertension) in pregnancy can be dangerous for your health and your baby’s. Affecting about 6 to 8 percent of pregnancies in the United States, high blood pressure is more common in first-time pregnancies, in pregnant women under age 20 and over 40, if you’re obese, or if having multiple babies.
The most serious scare is preeclampsia, which can be life-threatening for both mom and fetus. In some cases, a woman’s obstetrician will recommend bed rest. In any case, there are some things a woman can do on her own to help reduce high blood pressure, including eating a healthy diet.
Here are five healthy foods to help lower blood pressure in pregnancy:
Surprised? Well, we’re not talking a pound of Godiva here. In small quantities, chocolate can be useful for its magnesium. “Magnesium can relax the blood vessels and reduce blood pressure,” says Kent Holtorf, M.D., director of the Holtorf Medical Group. Other foods with high levels of magnesium: spinach, almonds, avocados, fish, artichokes, oat bran, black beans and pumpkin seeds.
Your mom always told you bananas were a good source of potassium. She’s right. “Potassium can help lower blood pressure and decrease fluid retention,” says Dr. Holtorf. Potassium is also potent in raisins, spinach, yogurt, beets, Brussels sprouts, avocados and oranges.
The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish help “relax blood vessels and protect against effects of high blood pressure and reduce inflammation,” Dr. Holtorf notes. Avoid mercury-containing fish (tuna, swordfish, Atlantic halibut, king mackerel and sea bass, for example), and go for low-mercury types like anchovies, Arctic char, Pacific flounder, herring, tilapia, wild Alaska and Pacific salmon, striped bass and sturgeon.
“Vitamin C can help expand constricted arteries, helping lower blood pressure,” Dr. Holtorf explains. So go ahead and stock up on oranges, grapefruits, kiwis and strawberries. Or toss some bell peppers or red cabbage into your salad. Potatoes also contain vitamin C.
According to the American Heart Association, “Sodium makes the body hold on to fluid. To pump the added fluid, the heart has to work harder.” So, lowering your sodium levels–normal recommended amount is 2,300 milligrams–will keep this in check. Read processed food labels for sodium content, and choose herbs and spices to flavor food you make at home.