Why Hypertension and Heart Disease Hits Black Americans Harder


In recognition of National High Blood Pressure Education Month, which is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this article features evidence-based education and practical tips on how to address high blood pressure with heart-healthy nutrition.  Before delving into the education and tips, below is a brief overview of the condition and health statistics.

What is High Blood Pressure?

Written as two figures, blood pressure is measured as the pressure when the heart has pumped (systolic) and when the heart is in between beats (diastolic). When the heart pumps blood, blood pressure is higher than when it is in between beats. The systolic measurement will be higher than the diastolic measurement. 

How Hypertension and Heart Disease Disproportionately Affect African Americans

In the US, approximately 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure, however, most people are not aware they have this condition due to a lack of signs or symptoms. Hypertension is more common among African Americans than Caucasians and is less likely to occur in Mexican Americans (Heart Disease and African Americans | Office of Minority Health, 2023).  To reiterate, uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke.

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attack. You can reduce your risk for heart disease through lifestyle changes such as eating a heart-healthy diet.

How Does Heart Disease Disproportionately Affect African American Populations?

•             In 2019, African Americans were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites.

•             Although African American adults are 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, they are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to have their blood pressure under control.

•             African American women are nearly 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, as compared to non-Hispanic white women.

Addressing Hypertension with Healthy Eating

It is known that high levels of sodium (salt) consumption are linked to high blood pressure. In the US, most people consume more than twice the level of recommended sodium intake. Guidelines recommend up to 2,300mg of sodium per day for an adult. Those at higher risk should

consume even less (up to 1,500mg of sodium a day). Higher risk groups include those who have diabetes, kidney disease, existing high blood pressure, and African American people. It is also recommended that people eat potassium rich foods which help lower blood pressure. Potassium rich foods include fish, green leafy vegetables, bananas, citrus fruits, and potatoes.

In addition to reducing their sodium intake, people should reduce their consumption of unhealthy fats.  Eating the right types of fat (unsaturated) and avoiding the unhealthy ones (saturated and trans-fat) helps reduce the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels.  Reducing your sodium and unhealthy fat intake lowers your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Tips to Reduce Sodium in Your Diet

•             In general, foods with more than 300mg of sodium per serving may not work well for people with hypertension.

•             Look for the sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol on your food label and make sure these nutrients are under 20 percent of the Daily Value.

•             Try alternative ways to season your food such as using citrus juice, herbs, and spices and always taste your food before adding salt.

•             Incorporate recipes from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension plan, which was created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Foods that Lower Your Blood Pressure Include:       

•             Berries contain antioxidants that have a lowering effect on blood pressure.

•             Bananas contain potassium, which can help manage hypertension.

•             Drinking beet juice may reduce blood pressure because it contains dietary nitrate.

•             Leafy green vegetables are rich in nitrates, which help manage blood pressure.

•             Watermelon contains the amino acid citrulline, which is converted to arginine producing nitric oxide, a gas that relaxes blood vessels and encourages flexibility in arteries.

•             Garlic, fermented foods, lentils, yogurt, pomegranates, nuts, citrus fruits, oily fish, and tomatoes are a few other heart-healthy foods. (BlackDoctor.org – Article contributor: Eric Meredith, MEd, MS. RDN, CDE, CHES; HistoryMinorityhealth.hhs.gov)