04/16/2015 02:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015

Does Restaurant Food Raise Blood Pressure?

It is possible to eat healthy when eating out -- but it certainly isn't easy. Tempting foods, countless choices and large portions are just some of the reasons we'll tend to overdo it when eating out. The fast food to healthy food restaurant ratio definitely also skews to the greasy, salty, sugary side of things. 

Eating out more often is known to be associated with overweight, but a new study in the American Journal of Hypertension found that even for young people, additional meals out is linked to greater risk of high blood pressure. 

High blood pressure your food and your health

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and the earlier in life it starts the greater the danger. The researchers, from the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, recruited about 500 healthy students aged 18-40, and collected data about their physical activity, dietary habits and also measurements of blood pressure, weight and height.

In this young group 27.4 percent had prehypertension (defined as systolic blood pressure of 120-139 mm Hg and/or diastolic blood pressure 80-89 mm Hg) and 2.2 percent had hypertension (systolic blood pressure above 140 mm Hg and/or diastolic blood pressure above 90 mm Hg). Not surprisingly, higher blood pressure was associated with higher BMI, older age and particularly with being male and with lower levels of exercise.

But the new finding in this study was that each additional meal out of home increased the odds of high blood pressure by 6 percent, and the association was stronger the older you got.

Controlling blood pressure is important for prevention of future disease, and while circulating androgens (the probable cause for men's higher blood pressure) and our genetic makeup are a given, there are plenty lifestyle factors that are up to us. Exercise and controlling our weight are important for ideal blood pressure -- as well as for countless other health conditions. And while eating out is fun, and a necessity for many of us, we can definitely try to eat more home cooked meals, and to eat out in a way that's more like eating in.

A few tips:

Choose the restaurant, choose the dish: After picking a restaurant with healthier food, opt for the dishes that offer simply prepared healthy options. Stay away from breaded and fried foods and creamy sauces and soups.

Control portions: Beware of all-you-can-eat buffets. If the portions are large don't be shy - try to order a half portion or share the dish with your dining partner. Boxing half of the entrée for tomorrow is another option.

Pay attention to the drinks: Alcoholic and sugary drinks can add lots of unnoticed calories. Mixed alcoholic drinks can be calorie bombs: they contain both alcohol and sugary additions. Instead, drink water throughout the meal.

Pretend you're home: Well, I wouldn't suggest such killjoy steps if you're eating out as an occasional indulgence -- in that case I'd personally dress nicely and eat whatever my heart desires. But if you're a student and have to subside on cafeteria food, if you're traveling for a while and therefore eating a restaurant breakfast daily, I do suggest you pick the meal that most resembles a healthy home-meal. Those big muffins do look good and everyone seems to eat them, but the yogurt and bowl of fruit will leave you with fewer regrets.

Dr. Ayala

This is a crosspost of my blog, Healthy Food & Healthy Living, where you can reach me at