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Been thinking about your heart health lately? It’s a smart move – nearly half of all Americans are living with at least one crucial risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But there’s good news. Your daily diet may be able to help you lower those risk factors and keep your heart in good shape. The key? There are quite a few, but one new nutrient that can play a role in heart health is potassium.
Women in particular may want to consider upping their potassium intake. If high blood pressure or heart health concerns like increased sodium intake are top of mind, here’s how potassium just might be able to balance out your nutrition.
Potassium may help counter your salt intake
The first line of defense for your heart when you’re eating too much salt? It’s usually to cut back and slash the amount of salt you’re getting in every meal. However, new research suggests that countering salt intake with a different mineral may be of some help.
A 2022 study published in European Heart Journal examined the impact of potassium-rich diets on heart health, and specifically blood pressure levels, for women. Researchers worked with 24,963 participants – 11,267 men and 13,696 women – between the ages of 40 and 79 years old. Each participant completed a lifestyle questionnaire, had their blood pressure measured, and gave lab samples to measure sodium and potassium intake. From there, they were divided into three groups: low, medium, and high, depending on their sodium and potassium levels.
The study’s researchers analyzed the link between potassium intake and blood pressure, and they discovered that as women consumed more potassium, their blood pressure went down. They then added sodium intake into the mix, finding that this positive relationship between potassium and blood pressure only occurred in women in the high sodium group.
Interestingly, there appeared to be no connection between potassium intake and blood pressure for male participants. Similarly, women in the medium and low sodium groups didn’t see potassium make much of a difference.
More potassium, better heart health?
These findings might make you think the key to better heart health, and improved blood pressure, is simply getting more potassium. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that – but it could be a boon for women who are worried about high blood pressure as a risk factor for concerns like heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
The study’s researchers followed up with their participants 19.5 years after the initial data collection. 55 percent of those individuals were hospitalized or died as a result of cardiovascular disease (which can be tied to high blood pressure). Researchers examined the potential association between cardiovascular events and potassium intake; they found that individuals with the highest potassium levels had a 13 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular events.
The difference was particularly stark for women – men saw a risk reduction of 7 percent, while women saw an 11 percent decrease. Interestingly, in these follow-up findings, researchers noted that salt intake didn’t appear to have an effect on the link between potassium intake and cardiovascular events.
So, while the results suggest that getting plenty of potassium can potentially benefit women who are concerned about their cardiovascular health, the effect can vary. There may be a slightly bigger benefit for women who have high salt intake; however, potassium may offer an advantage in general when keeping overall cardiovascular risk in mind.
How women can take advantage of potassium’s potential benefits
Overall, it’s not a bad idea to keep potassium in mind when you’re looking at your overall nutrition. In fact, according to Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CPT, “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans include potassium (in addition to vitamin D, calcium, and fiber) as a nutrient of public health concern for the general U.S. population. While most people focus on watching sodium in their diets, they often overlook the importance of electrolytes (i.e. potassium) needed in proper balance in your body to keep your system running in tip top shape.”
And you don’t need to go beyond food to get this potential heart-helper. As Shaw explains, “Those who eat a well-balanced, variety-filled diet can certainly meet [their] nutrient needs for potassium without having to pop a supplement.”
Make potassium part of your daily diet by working to reach the daily recommended amount. For adult women aged 19 and older, the National Institutes of Health recommends 2,600 mg per day. While dietary supplements can help, the best method is to eat potassium-rich foods. Some of best include:
- Dried apricots (755 mg per serving)
- Cooked lentils (731 mg per serving)
- Acorn squash (644 mg per serving)
- Dried prunes (636 mg per serving)
Not a fan of those foods? Shaw points out there are plenty of options for everyone’s taste or food preferences. “While bananas tend to be the number one food discussed when people talk about potassium (and rightfully so, they do pack around 400 mg per serving), there are other dietary staples in many cultural diets that are packed with potassium,” she explains. “For instance, a white potato packs 610 mg in a medium baked potato, or 13% of the daily value of potassium! And, for those who prefer to drink their nutrients, 100% orange juice and 100% pomegranate juice have around 500 mg per cup.”
Try these recipes if you’re looking for fresh ways to get your fill of potassium for potential heart health perks:
- Chicken, Lentil & Apple Salad with Curry Dressing
- Banana Cream Pie Chia Pudding
- Biryani-Style Rice Salad with Dried Apricots and Cashews
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