A diet low in potassium and high in sodium may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Researchers found that for people with high normal blood pressure levels, every unit increase in the person's sodium-to-potassium ratio raised the chance of cardiovascular disease by 24 percent. Increasing potassium and lowering sodium intake may reverse the risk.
Potassium and Your Heart
One of potassium's main jobs is to help transmit nerve impulses that keep your heart beating. If you have high blood pressure, heart failure, or heart rhythm problems, getting enough potassium is especially important. Although you can't treat or prevent heart disease with potassium alone, numerous studies show that getting enough of this mineral has heart-healthy benefits. In one major study of people with high blood pressure, taking potassium supplements reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) by about 8 points. But you don't have to pop potassium pills to get the heart-healthy benefits. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods can help lower systolic blood pressure by more than 10 points in people with high blood pressure.
How Much Do I Need?
The Adequte Intake (AI) level for potassium is 4,700 milligrams per day for people over the age of 14. (People on some diuretics or heart disease medications should get less. Check with your doctor.) Potassium deficiencies are rare in the U.S. since it's found in a wide variety of foods, but intakes for people who don't eat a lot of fruits and vegetables could be less than optimal.
See "More Potassium, Please" for potassium values for a variety of foods.
Taking potassium isn't known to reduce the risk of heart attacks. But by making sure you're getting enough potassium, you'll probably end up eating more fruits and vegetables. And a healthy diet–one that's high in fruits and veggies and low in sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol–may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Decrease your risk of heart disease with our collection of High-Potassium Recipes.
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