Could bananas and sweet potatoes help women’s heart health?

If you love smashing avocado on toast or snacking on a banana, the good news is these tasty foods could also be helping you balance your salt intakes and look after your heart.

Regularly eating foods that are high in potassium, such as avocados, sweet potato/kūmara, potatoes, watermelon and bananas , can help to lower your blood pressure – which is a risk factor for heart disease.

A recent study, published in the European Heart Journal,  found a link between eating potassium-rich foods and lower blood pressure, with women benefitting more than men.

The researchers examined information from nearly 25,000 people (close to 11,000 men and 14,000 women) who provided diet data as part of the EPIC-Norfolk study. What they found was that for women with the highest intakes of sodium, as their potassium intakes went up, their blood pressure went down - each gram of potassium was linked with a 2.4mmHg drop in blood pressure. However, in men there was no association between potassium and blood pressure.

They also found that people who had the highest intakes of potassium had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of whether they were men or women.

While the results of the study show that potassium can help your body get rid of some of that excess sodium, it is not a free pass to have more salt. It is still recommended that sodium should be limited to no more than 2,000mg per day, or approximately 5g of salt.

Why is potassium important?

Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte, which is found in a range of fruits, vegetables and legumes, as well as dairy and seafood.

Its main role is to maintain normal levels of fluid inside our cells, while its counterpart, sodium does the same job, but outside of cells. Potassium relaxes our blood vessels and helps our bodies get rid of excess sodium, helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Potassium also helps muscles contract - it’s why you might eat a banana before an intense workout to help sidestep muscle cramping.

How much potassium do I need?

In Australia, it is recommended that most women should consume at least 2,800mg of potassium a day, and men should be aiming for at least 3,800mg a day. However, research shows that most Aussie adults are falling short of these recommendations.

It is important to note some groups of people may need to limit potassium in their diet, particularly if their kidneys are not working well or if they are taking medication that cause their bodies to hold on to potassium. For these people, it is important that they are guided by their healthcare provider about how much potassium they should have in their diet, as having too much potassium can actually be dangerous for your heart.

What foods are high in potassium?

Wanting to boost the potassium in your diet? Why not add some of these potassium-rich foods  to this week’s grocery shopping list?
1. Tinned legumes or pulses (choose ones with no added salt)
2. Bananas
3. Avocados
4. Spinach or silverbeet
5. Sweet potato/ kūmara
6. Broccoli
7. Watermelon
8. Oranges
9. Potato or taro
10. Nuts e.g. almond, peanut