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It’s no secret that some foods are better for our hearts than others, but a new study has just revealed that eating things rich in potassium — think fish, avocados, and bananas — is especially beneficial for women. According to research recently published in European Heart JournalDiets rich in potassium have been associated with lower blood pressure, especially in women who eat high amounts of salt.
“It is known that higher salt consumption is associated with higher blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes,” study author Professor Levert Vogt of the University of Amsterdam Medical Centers in the Netherlands said in a press release. “Health advice focused on reducing 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 associated with the greatest health gains in women.”
To get their findings, the researchers asked 24,963 participants — 11,267 men and 13,696 women — ages 40 to 79 to complete a questionnaire about their lifestyle habits. In addition, each person’s blood pressure was measured and a urine sample was collected to calculate the amount of sodium and potassium. The participants were then divided into groups according to their sodium and potassium intake on a low, medium, and high scale.
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The researchers then analyzed the relationship between potassium intake and blood pressure, adjusting for age, gender, and sodium intake. In women, they found that as potassium consumption went up, blood pressure dropped. (The study indicated that the relationship between potassium and blood pressure was only present in women with high sodium intake.) The association between potassium and blood pressure was not found in men.
During a 19.5-year follow-up, the researchers found that 55 percent of the participants were either hospitalized or died of cardiovascular disease. When looking at the relationship between potassium intake and cardiovascular events, they found that people who consumed the highest amounts of potassium were 13% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
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“The results suggest that potassium helps maintain a healthy heart, but that women benefit more than men,” said Professor Vogt. “The relationship between cardiovascular events and potassium was the same regardless of salt intake, indicating that potassium has other ways to protect the heart in addition to increasing sodium excretion.”
So, how much potassium should you consume daily? According to the World Health Organization, adults should consume at least 3.5 grams of potassium and less than 2 grams of sodium per day. Foods that are high in potassium include vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, dairy products, and fish.