Potassium Protects Your Heart

July 28, 2011

Have you been watching your sodium intake for cardiovascular health? Find out why potassium might be better

Mind your sodium but forgot the potassium? Well, watching your sodium intake might not be enough to protect and promote cardiovascular health - contrary to what many of us have heard for so long. A new study of over 12,000 adults published in the Journal Archives of Internal Medicine, found that those whose diets were relatively equal in sodium and potassium were at the lowest risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Those who consumed the highest amounts of sodium (50 percent) relative to potassium had a 46 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular-related illness.

The study followed over 12,000 adults for an average of almost 15 years. Through dietary surveys, researchers were able to estimate potassium and sodium intake. Not surprisingly, those who consumed the most sodium were the most likely to die during the study – 73 percent higher than those who consumed the least sodium, while those who consumed the most potassium had a 39 percent lower risk than those who consumed the least.

So what does potassium actually do? Potassium relaxes blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and helps rid the body of excess fluids. Potassium also helps maintain the proper electrolyte and acid-base balance as well as helping nerve and muscle function.

There are easy ways to reduce sodium and increase potassium in your diet. Head to the produce section of your market! Choosing fresh, whole foods over those that are packaged, and processed is a great start. Some of the best sources of potassium include yam, lima beans, swiss chard, winter squash, soybeans, avocado, spinach, crimini mushrooms, cantaloupe, blackstrap molasses, pinto beans, apricots, bananas, lentils, papaya and more.

Does cooking affect potassium levels? Yes potassium losses from cooking can be significant. For example spinach - potassium levels have been shown to drop over 50 percent after blanching for several minutes. Most of the potassium can be found in the cooking water. 

The recommended potassium intake is 4,700 mg per day, (average intake ranges from 2,000-2,500 mg per day).

What about sodium? The National Academy of Sciences recommends that Americans consume a minimum of 500 mg per day of sodium to maintain good health. And the American Heart Association recently set the upper limit at 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Most Americans consume much more than that -- on average, about 3,500 mg a day!

To find our where salt may be hiding in your diet click here.