High Potassium Intake Associated with Lower Risk of Stroke in Older Women

What do bananas, raisins, and white beans have in common? More than just great taste; they’re all packed with potassium and eating them daily might help cut risk of stroke. A study published by the American Heart Association has linked high potassium intake to lower risk of stroke and death in postmenopausal women.

Using data from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, an 11-year study of postmenopausal women, researchers analyzed over 90,000 women ages 50 to 79 years who had no history of stroke at the beginning of the study. Researchers monitored for development of stroke or death from any cause for the 11-year period. They determined potassium intake by using food frequency questionnaires and evaluating nutrient content of commonly eaten foods.

Results showed women who got the most potassium in their diets (above 3,193 mg) had 12% lower risk of stroke compared with women who got the least potassium (below 1,925 mg). In women with normal blood pressure, stroke risk reduction increased to 21%. And in women of normal weight, risk of stroke lowered by 30% between the low and high potassium groups. Researchers suggest these differences are due to potassium’s ability to improve blood flow by promoting release of nitric oxide, a gas that widens blood vessels.

The USDA recommends women eat at least 4,700 mg of potassium per day, yet in this study only 2.8% of women were getting this amount. Nationwide, potassium intake has declined over the past 20 years, which could be putting women at greater risk for stroke. This is partially due to the nation’s food supply, which is laden with processed foods that often lack this important nutrient.

How can you increase your potassium intake? Load up on fruits and vegetables, which tend to be all-star sources of this mineral. Bananas, white and sweet potatoes, raisins, prunes, and spinach are all packed with this heart healthy nutrient. Getting 4,700 mg potassium per day may seem like a lot, but here’s how it can be simply and deliciously done.

  1. Include a large banana and 1 cup orange juice with your breakfast (983 mg).
  2. Snack on ¼ cup raisins and ¼ cup almonds mid-morning (534 mg).
  3. Top a large spinach salad with ½ cup white beans at lunch (1,097 mg).
  4. Serve 6 ounces tuna with 1 cup broccoli and a baked sweet potato for dinner (1,663 mg).
  5. Enjoy 1 ½ cups cantaloupe for dessert (710 mg).

Want to get creative in the kitchen? Try our Adobo Potato Slaw, offering 557 mg potassium, or our Butternut Squash & Barley Casserole with Turkey, which packs nearly a quarter of your daily potassium in just one serving.

Published February 1, 2015