High blood pressure

One in four adults in Uganda have high blood pressure (hypertension) but only eight per cent are aware of it. If left untreated, high blood pressure increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Having your blood pressure measured and understanding what the numbers mean and how you can lower your blood pressure can improve your health significantly.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure describes the pressure in the main blood vessel in your arm, which stems from the heart. It can be measured using a manual or digital sphygmomanometer (blood pressure monitor) that records your systolic pressure when the heart is beating and diastolic pressure between beats. It is given as two figures, eg 120/80.

Why is blood pressure important?

Blood pressure is an indicator of general health. A rise in blood pressure means your heart is overworking. On the other hand a fall in blood pressure can affect your organs (eg kidneys). So it is important your blood pressure is kept within the normal limits. 

What is a healthy blood pressure?

A healthy blood pressure is in the range 90/50 to 120/80. Blood pressure varies throughout the day and your levels of physical exertion and stress cause it to change, too. So blood pressure should be checked under resting conditions. Single measurements aren’t very reliable, you may need to check your blood pressure several times before  a diagnosis can be made. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says hypertension is diagnosed if, when it is measured on two different days, the systolic blood pressure readings on both days is ≥140 mmHg and/or the diastolic blood pressure readings on both days is ≥90 mmHg.

What are the dangers of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure increases your risk of dangerous health problems, such as heart attacks and strokes – the higher the pressure, the greater the risk.

What is the role of diet in causing high blood pressure?

Compared to meat-eaters, vegans have a lower risk of high blood pressure. If you already suffer from it, a healthy vegan diet can help you lower your blood pressure more effectively than other diets, including a vegetarian one. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, a low fat (especially saturated animal fat) and low salt diet, quitting smoking and reducing the amount of alcohol consumed can all help too.

What can you do to prevent or treat high blood pressure?

Many studies show that changing to a low-fat vegan diet can significantly lower blood pressure, enough so that some people are able to give up their medication.

Top tips for treating high blood pressure:

  • Lose weight if necessary. A low-fat vegan diet is a successful aid to weight loss. 
  • Reduce salt in your diet. Eat no more than five grams of salt – just under a teaspoon – a day. 
  • Avoid meat and dairy – both contain saturated animal fat and cholesterol.
  • Eat ‘good’ fats – polyunsaturated fats from nuts and seeds and essential omega-3s from flaxseed, hempseed and their oils, walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables to help protect your blood vessels.
  • Exercise regularly – a shift towards motorised transport in Uganda has led to lower physical activity and a rise in obesity and hence higher levels of blood pressure.
  • Stop smoking – within weeks, your blood will become less sticky and the risk of heart attacks will start to fall and after just one year you’ll have halved your risk of heart disease.
  • Reduce stress as much as possible – practice healthy coping techniques, such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing. Getting plenty of sleep can help, too.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption – one drink daily maximum for women, two for men. 
  • Choose more vegan foods – they protect and strengthen your heart and blood vessels:
    • Fruits – eg bananas, oranges, apples, mangos, pineapples etc
    • Vegetables – eg broccoli, kale, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash and corn
    • Wholegrains – eg brown rice, wholewheat bread, millet, barley, buckwheat and quinoa
    • Pulses (peas, all types of beans and lentils) – eg no added salt kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, chickpeas
    • Nuts and seeds – although relatively high in fat, nuts contain the healthier unsaturated fats and a small handful of nuts a day can help protect heart health.


Vegan diets are linked to lower blood pressure and overall better heart health outcomes compared with animal-based diets. The mechanisms of action are likely to involve the many powerful health-promoting compounds found in plant foods. Because of this, plus their lower environmental impact, scientists say that plant-based diets should be promoted in a “one health” framework. This is an approach that recognises that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.