A new study conducted by researchers from the European Society of Cardiology explored how women’s diets may affect their heart health. Their findings showed that eating more foods that are high in potassium may improve women’s long-term heart health and neutralize the effects of salty foods.
“It is well known that high salt consumption is associated with elevated blood pressure and a raised risk of heart attacks and strokes,” said researcher Liffert Vogt. “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.”
Potassium can improve heart health
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 25,000 people between the ages of 40 and 79 who were enrolled in the EPIC-Norfolk study. Participants provided a urine sample, answered questions about their lifestyles, and also had their blood pressure measured.
The researchers identified a link between women’s potassium intake, salt intake, and blood pressure. Independent of salt intake, higher potassium consumption was linked with lower blood pressure in women. However, the study also found that women with high sodium levels were able to improve their blood pressure when they increased their potassium intake. Each one-gram increase in potassium was linked with a 2.4 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure reading.
“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.”
For consumers looking to incorporate more potassium into their diets, the researchers recommend eating more beans, bananas, fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and nuts. The team says more women should also consider adding salmon or avocados into their diets to improve their long-term heart health.
“Our findings indicate that a heart-healthy diet goes beyond limiting salt to boosting potassium content,” said Vogt. “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.”