We love to beat the dead fruit and veggie horse. No, that’s not some new recipe or diet fad; it’s the fact that we can’t stop telling you to eat more fruits and vegetables because, besides more exercise, there really isn’t any better, more studied way to get healthier, avoid disease, and live longer. The latest study on the nutritious nosh is from the University of Southern California and it focuses on fruits and veggies with a high potassium content, like sweet potatoes, avocados, spinach, beans, and bananas.
Just published in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism, the analysis built off the knowledge that high sodium is linked to high blood pressure, and previous evidence that suggested increasing potassium consumption could lead to lower BP. Researchers looked at population, interventional, and molecular mechanism studies that delved into how both sodium and potassium can affect hypertension, or high blood pressure, and found that high dietary potassium was tied to lower blood pressure, no matter the salt intake. They also found that sodium is important in the body for controlling levels of potassium.
“When dietary potassium is high, kidneys excrete more salt and water, which increases potassium excretion,” said study co-author Alicia McDonough, Ph.D., professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “Eating a high-potassium diet is like taking a diuretic.” And while it’s pretty easy to eat a diet high in sodium—which we evolved to crave since it was in low supply when we roamed the savannas—since most packaged food is loaded with it, it’s much tougher in the modern world to get large doses of potassium unless you focus on eating the entire fruits and veggies that are loaded with it.
“If you eat a typical Western diet,” said McDonough, “your sodium intake is high and your potassium intake is low. This significantly increases your chances of developing high blood pressure.” When dietary potassium is low, the balancing act uses sodium retention to hold onto the limited potassium, which is like eating a higher sodium diet, she said.