Potassium is essential for keeping our bodies stronger and healthier for longer. Eating foods like lentils, bananas, and especially avocados, all rich in potassium, helps to maintain the interior health of our cells. Another mineral, sodium, helps to maintain the fluid balance outside the cells. Now, research suggests that women who eat potassium-rich foods have improved heart health and lower blood pressure. The study suggests that increasing potassium consumption can curb the harmful effects of high salt diets for women.
Published in the European Society of Cardiology’s (ESC) European Heart Journal, the study asserts that the easiest way to reduce the heart risks of a high salt diet is to increase potassium consumption. Particularly regarding women with higher salt consumption, the research team found an association between higher potassium consumption and lower blood pressure and subsequent heart disease. To conduct the study, the researchers examined information from 24,963 participants (11,267 men and 13,696 women) of the EPIC-Norfolk study – a database of general practice information collected between 1993 and 1997.
“It is well known that high salt consumption is associated with elevated blood pressure and a raised risk of heart attacks and strokes,” study author Professor Liffert Vogt of Amsterdam University Medical Centers, the Netherlands, said. “Health advice has focused on limiting salt intake but this is difficult to achieve when our diets include processed foods. Potassium helps the body excrete more sodium in the urine. In our study, dietary potassium was linked with the greatest health gains in women.”
Determining the Link Between Potassium and Heart Health
Using the Norfolk data, the researchers analyzed how men and women differed in salt consumption, potassium consumption, and general health over the data period. On average, the men participants were 59 years old and the women were 58 years old. The information was collected from a questionnaire on lifestyle habits, a urine sample, and blood pressure tests. Using the urine samples, the researchers successfully divided the participants into tertiles for sodium and potassium intake measured by low, medium, and high.
To find the associations, the research team compared these levels with blood pressure tests. For the women, the tests revealed that as the potassium consumption went up, the blood pressure went down. More importantly, this correlation was specifically linked to the participants with higher sodium levels. The study also found that men showed no association between blood pressure and potassium consumption.
“The results suggest that potassium helps preserve heart health, but that women benefit more than men,” Vogt said. “The relationship between potassium and cardiovascular events was the same regardless of salt intake, suggesting that potassium has other ways of protecting the heart on top of increasing sodium excretion.”
Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
The study also conducted a median follow-up after 19.5 years. The follow-up found that 55 percent of the participants either died or were hospitalized with cardiovascular-related diseases. Compared to the lowest tertile of potassium consumption, the participants in the highest tertile showed a 13 percent lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. The research team analyzed the men and women participants separately, revealing that risk reductions were 7 and 11 percent, respectively.
This research adjusted for several external risk factors including body mass index, sex, age, lipid-lowering drugs, alcohol consumption, prior heart disease, diabetes, and sodium intake. The study also noted that salt consumption did not influence the link between potassium and cardiovascular events in either participant pool. Overall, the study notes that potassium-rich foods provide significant health benefits to both men and women.
“Our findings indicate that a heart-healthy diet goes beyond limiting salt to boosting potassium content,” Vogt said. “Food companies can help by swapping standard sodium-based salt for a potassium salt alternative in processed foods. On top of that, we should all prioritize fresh, unprocessed foods since they are both rich in potassium and low in salt.”
What to Eat for Heart Health
This study reveals only the latest information about how nutrient-rich plant-based foods can help reduce your risk for heart disease. Last July, a study found that red meat and processed meats can increase your risk of heart disease by 18 percent. With such a high risk, tons of consumers are shifting to plant-based diets earlier in life. Another study found that introducing a plant-centered diet from 18-30 years old can even reduce heart disease risk 30 years later.
The ESC study recommends foods such as avocados and bananas for potassium sources. Avocados provide approximately 1 gram of potassium, providing the heart-healthy boost necessary to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve general heart health.
The Best Potassium-Rich Plant-Based Foods
- Lotus Root (640 milligrams per vegetable)
- White Beans (421 milligrams per ½ cup)
- Winter Squash (406 milligrams per cup)
- Spinach (839 milligrams per cup)
- Cantaloupe (1,474 milligrams per melon)
- Coconut Water (600 milligrams per cup)
- Tomatoes (670 milligrams per ¼ cup)
Check out these 8 vegan heart-healthy recipes to add more potassium to your diet.
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