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Your ethnic background and your blood pressure


If you are of African Caribbean or South Asian descent then you are more likely to develop high blood pressure. 

This can also mean you’re more at risk of having a stroke or heart attack.

The good news is, there are lots of simple steps you can take to start lowering your blood pressure today, helping you to avoid illness and medications.


How does your ethnic background affect your blood pressure?

If you are from an African, Caribbean or South Asian background you a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than the rest of the population. South Asian people also have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which, combined with high blood pressure, makes heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and other health problems more likely.

It’s especially important for you to look at your diet and lifestyle and see where you can make healthy changes to prevent high blood pressure or bring it under control.

As high blood pressure has no symptoms, the only way to know if you have it is to have a blood pressure check. Find out more about high blood pressure and see where you can get a check.

What causes high blood pressure?

People develop high blood pressure for a number of reasons. Your lifestyle will affect your blood pressure, for example, eating too much salt, being overweight and not being physically active. Some foods traditionally eaten in South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean tend to be high in salt and saturated fat which will have an effect.

Your genes could play a role too, and you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure if other people in your family have high blood pressure or have done in the past.  

How to lower your blood pressure

Eating less salt, as highlighted below, and fat are two good places to start, along with making other healthy changes to your diet. There are also other changes you can make to your lifestyle to lower your blood pressure and take control of your health.

Read more about how you can look after your heart in our leaflet, Love your heart: A South Asian guide to controlling your blood pressure, which is available in five languages.

Remember, your blood pressure does not have to control you. You can control your blood pressure.


Cut down on salt 

Traditional African Caribbean and South Asian dishes can be high in salt, which raises your blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure will be. Cutting down on salt is one of the best things you can do to lower it and can make a difference within weeks.

People of African Caribbean descent are more sensitive to the blood pressure-raising effects of salt compared with other ethnic groups. The reason why isn’t fully understood, but it means eating less salt can be particularly helpful in taking control of your health. 

Aim to eat less than 6g per day. The targets for children are much lower, for example, children aged four to six should only eat up to 3g per day.

How to add less salt to your cooking

Make some simple swaps to your cooking to help you eat less salt.

Avoid using these high-salt products to flavour foods:

  • all types of salt, including table salt, sea salt, rock salt and garlic salt
  • stock cubes, soy sauce, gravy granules, ready-made mustard and pickles
  • table sauces like ketchup and brown sauce
  • curry powders and pre-mixed spices with added salt – 

Go for alternatives to salt, such as:

  • herbs, spices, peppers and chillies
  • ginger, cinnamon, lemon juice, vinegar
  • annato seeds, which are used to lavor soups, stews and fish dishes
  • home-made curry powder, made from a variety spices
  • pimento, also known as allspice, used in pickles, marinades, soups, stews and jerking (a method of cooking meat and poultry)
  • a mixture of scallions, garlic, thyme, onion and lemon juice to marinate meat and chicken without having to use salt


Cut down on fat

Eating too much fat, especially saturated fat, directly raises your cholesterol levels and can cause weight gain.

Too much cholesterol in your blood clogs up your arteries, making them narrower and raising your risk of heart attack or stroke. Gaining weight can raise your blood pressure, which makes these risks higher. 

How to add less fat to your cooking
Palm oils and coconut oils, which are commonly used in African Caribbean cooking, are very high in saturated fat, as is ghee which is traditionally used in South Asian cooking. Try using a healthy alternative such as olive oil or rapeseed oil instead.

Learn more about the types of fats and how you can cut back and choose healthier options.


Meals to look out for

These popular African Caribbean dishes can contain a lot of salt and saturated fats.

Antigua, Montserrat, Nevis Fish soup, pepper pot soup
Barbados Jug-jug black pudding
Belize Conch fritters, rice and chicken, tamales, refried beans and iswa
Dominica Tannia, mountain chicken
Grenada Callaloo, lambie souse
Guyana Metemgee Chicken Chowmein
Jamaica Brown stew chicken, saltfish and ackee
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Stewed shark
British Virgin Islands Saltfish and rice, fish chowder, conch salad
Trinidad and Tobago Kachouri, palouri, pelau, pakoras
Guadeloupe and Martinique Pate en pot, mechoui


Our tips on cooking with less salt and fat should help you to create healthier versions of these meals, or try to eat them less often or in smaller amounts.

Find more tips on cooking African Caribbean from Christine who is from Ghana. She is a professional cook who changed her lifestyle and her cooking to help her recover from a stroke.




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