Eating foods such as bananas, avocados and salmon could help reduce the negative effects of salt in women’s diet, research suggests.
The study found that potassium-rich diets were associated with lower blood pressure, particularly in women with high salt intake.
Researchers say their findings indicate the mineral helps preserve heart health, and that women benefit more than men.
Study author Professor Liffert Vogt of Amsterdam University Medical Centers, in the Netherlands, said: “It is well known that high salt consumption is associated with elevated blood pressure and a raised risk of heart attacks and strokes.
“Health advice has focused on limiting salt intake, but this is difficult to achieve when our diets include processed foods. In our study, dietary potassium was linked with the greatest health gains in women.”
The study included 11,267 men and 13,696 women from the Epic-Norfolk study, which recruited adults aged 40 to 79 from general practices in Norfolk, UK, between 1993 and 1997.
Everyone completed a questionnaire on lifestyle habits, their blood pressure was measured and a urine sample was collected. Urinary sodium and potassium were used to estimate dietary intake.
Researchers analysed the link between potassium intake and blood pressure, and found that potassium consumption (in grams per day) was associated with blood pressure in women. As intake of the mineral went up, blood pressure went down.
When the association was analysed according to salt intake, the relationship between potassium and blood pressure was only observed in women with high sodium intake.
Overall, they found that people who had the highest potassium intake had a 13% lower risk of cardiovascular events compared to those with the lowest intake. When men and women were analysed separately, the risk reductions were 7% and 11%, respectively.
The amount of salt in the diet did not influence the relationship between potassium and cardiovascular events in men or women, the researchers found.
Prof Vogt said: “The results suggest that potassium helps preserve heart health, but that women benefit more than men.
“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.”
The NHS recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 need 3,500mg of potassium a day, and should be able to get this from their diet.
Foods high in potassium include vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, dairy products and fish. For example, a 115g banana has 375mg of potassium, 154g of cooked salmon has 780mg, a 136g potato has 500mg, and one cup of milk has 375mg.
Tracy Parker, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This research supports current advice that cutting down our intake of salt and eating more foods containing potassium can be the recipe for a healthier heart.
“An easy way to boost your potassium intake is by eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Other foods like pulses, fish, nuts, seeds and milk are also high in potassium and low in salt, so can help benefit your heart.
“However, keeping healthy isn’t just about monitoring what’s on your plate.
Limiting your alcohol intake and staying physically active will also help to lower your blood pressure, reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.”
The findings are published in the European Heart Journal.