Heart Health in Your Produce Section

Articles
September 24, 2010

Heart Health in Your Produce Section

As the food industry works to reduce the amount of sodium present in processed and packaged foods, researchers based in the Netherlands may have found another effective way consumers can help decrease their risk of heart disease -

As the food industry works to reduce the amount of sodium present in processed and packaged foods, researchers based in the Netherlands may have found another effective way consumers can help decrease their risk of heart disease - just by picking up a few items at their local supermarkets. According to research recently published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, increasing one’s intake of potassium salts could contribute significantly to improving blood pressure. Researchers found that consuming just 4.7 grams of “good salt” (potassium) is the equivalent of cutting out 4 grams of sodium - in terms of reducing blood pressure; which could help reduce heart disease risk by up to 11 percent.

Remind me again what is Potassium? Potassium is a mineral that acts to maintain balance in every cell in the body. This balance also depends on the amount of sodium we ingest. Unfortunately most Americans over-consume sodium; thus consuming a diet full of potassium rich foods is very important. Potassium is especially important to muscle and nerve activity and the degree to which our muscles and nerves contract and become excitable. Potassium is also important in maintaining calcium in our bones, as it prevents calcium excretion, helping to maintain dense, strong bones.

As mentioned, potassium is closely tied to proper muscle contractions and cellular health, thus a direct connection to our cardiovascular system and heart. High intakes of sodium and low intakes of potassium have unfavorable effects on blood pressure; and as blood pressure increases, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease also rises. In Western countries only about 20-30 percent of the population has ‘optimal’ blood pressure (less than 120mm HG/ 80mm HG). Clearly we would like to see the majority of the population in the ‘optimal’ blood pressure zone.

Researchers also uncovered that the average potassium intake in 21 countries including the United States, China, New Zealand, and the Netherlands varies between 1.7 and 3.7 grams per day; which is considerably lower than the recommended 4.7 grams per day.

So how can I increase potassium in my diet? And where can I find these foods? Look no further than your local supermarket’s produce section for potassium rich foods. Swiss chard, spinach, winter squash, cantaloupe, green beans, carrots, beets and papaya are excellent sources of potassium. Other great sources are bananas, apricots, crimini mushrooms and romaine lettuce. Choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables in the market can almost guarantee that you will consume adequate potassium (as well as a host of other phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber).

As always consult your physician before making any changes to your diet, especially if you are already restricting sodium or have kidney issues.

The study can be found in the Archives of Internal Medicine,  “Suboptimal Potassium Intake and Potential Impact on Population Blood Pressure” Authors: L.A.J. van Mierlo, A. Greyling, P.L. Zock, F.J. Kok, J.M. Geleijnse