Will a banana a day keep heart disease away? Let me count the ways…
Bananas are high in potassium, a mineral that plays a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy heart. Without enough of this mineral, your heart and arteries simply cannot function the way they’re supposed to.
Why? Because your heart is a muscle, and potassium helps trigger that muscle to contract and pump blood through your body. Potassium enables your heart to maintain a healthy rhythm and diastolic blood pressure (the pressure your heart exerts to pump blood through the arteries).
Potassium is also a vasodilator, relaxing blood vessels throughout the body, letting blood flow freely, with less chance of clotting and causing blockages that lead to stroke.
And very recently, some shocking research has shown that without sufficient potassium, your arteries may actually turn to bone…
1. For healthy arteries, eat a banana!
Evidence keeps piling up for the crucial role potassium plays in preventing stroke and heart attack.
Most recently, a 2017 study at the University of Alabama found that mice fed a low-potassium diet showed more arterial hardening and stiffness, while those who ate a high-potassium diet showed an actual reduction in these conditions.
The researchers found they could actually prevent the buildup of calcified plaque in the arteries of mice by increasing their potassium intake.
2. Women, take note: ditch stroke and hypertension risk
The importance of potassium to heart and artery health has been studied for quite some time.
One study points to particularly important benefits for women.
Researchers studied more than 90,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 for an average of eleven years. They looked at how much potassium the women consumed through their diet, and whether they’d had a stroke during the study period.
The women who ate the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to suffer a stroke, and 16 percent less likely to suffer an ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke. Ischemic stroke occurs when an artery leading to the brain is blocked.
The link between a potassium-rich diet and lowered stroke risk was stronger among the women who didn’t already have high blood pressure. This suggests that potassium may be most effective in preventing hypertension and stroke before they begin.
Other benefits of potassium
Aside from its positive effects on heart health, potassium does many other jobs when it comes to keeping you healthy and functioning well:
- Stabilizes blood sugar. Adequate potassium levels prevent drops in blood sugar that cause headache, shakiness, and, for diabetics, unhealthy spikes and drops in insulin levels.
- Prevents muscle cramps. Most cramps are a result of low potassium, a condition called hypokalemia. Eating a banana every day can help prevent painful cramping.
- Reduces anxiety and stress. Potassium is a hormone regulator, so it plays a part in regulating stress and anxiety and their effects on the body.
How to get more potassium in your diet
Not a banana fan? No problem. Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to get enough dietary potassium. Many fruits, vegetables, and other foods are rich sources of this mineral, including:
- Sweet potatoes
- Black beans
- Canned salmon
- Butternut squash
- Tomato sauce
A word of caution
With so many dietary sources of potassium, it’s best to beef up your potassium via your diet. But some medications, especially heart medications (the irony!) can leach potassium from your body. So if you think you may need to supplement, consult with a doctor.
Various conditions, including kidney disease, can cause you to have too much potassium, a condition called hyperkalemia, which can cause trouble breathing, numbness, and can even lead to heart attack.
Include a good variety of fruits, vegetables, and proteins in your diet. You’ll get a good supply of potassium, and your heart will thank you.
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- Potassium may help to prevent heart disease — Medical News Today
- Eating Potassium-Rich Food May Lower Stroke Risk — Live Science
- Bananas, avocados lower risk of heart disease — Metro
- 13 Incredible Potassium Benefits — Organic Information Services
- Effects of potassium deficiency on growth and protein synthesis in skeletal muscle and the heart of rats — British Journal of Nutrition
- Potassium: Health benefits and recommended intake — Medical News Today
- How Potassium Helps Your Heart — WebMD
- 13 Foods That Have More Potassium Than A Banana — Prevention
- High Potassium — Healthline