Tag Archives: stroke risk

Potassium Powerhouse Foods for Stroke Prevention and More

I frequently recommend foods high in potassium to my patients with high blood pressure. A recent study has me thinking I need to recommend these foods to more patients. This new study revealed that postmenopausal women who consumed the most potassium reduced their chance of stroke by 12% compared to those who ate the least. Women who didn’t have high blood pressure noticed an even better outcome from eating more potassium with a 27% reduction in strokes. Potassium is thought to improve the functioning of small blood vessels in the brain and throughout the body, partially by improving nitric oxide formation which can help open up blood vessels.

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

In truth, I recommend high potassium diets to most of my patients by encouraging them to eat a lot of vegetables. I believe that one of the reasons we need to get our 5-7 servings of veggies and fruit every day is to make sure we get adequate potassium. The average adult needs about 4700 mg of potassium a day. Many of the best potassium-rich foods are vegetables. For instance, a cup of cooked Swiss chard offers around 900 mg of potassium. Other high potassium foods include spinach, bok choy, beets, nuts, and dried beans. For a great list of potassium-rich foods, I like the chart available from World’s Healthiest Foods. My husband and I additionally take an electrolyte mixture that includes potassium when we work on the farm during these hot summers. Another good choice might be coconut water to help replace some of the potassium lost through sweating.

By emphasizing potassium intake, we get all of the benefits offered by this crucial mineral. Potassium is essential for nerve function throughout the body and especially in the heart. Getting adequate potassium can help preserve bone density and prevent the formation of kidney stones. Potassium deficiency might contribute to premenstrual issues and possibly the development of diabetes. As I mentioned above, eating high potassium foods can be one of the steps to help people reach a healthy blood pressure goal. And when we eat high potassium foods, we also get the full range of powerhouse nutrients that these foods provide. It is likely that these additional minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants from fruits and veggies contribute to some of the cardiovascular protection seen in these studies.

So figure out what high potassium foods you love to eat, and if you want some tips on getting more vegetables in your family’s life, check out my blog on getting kids to eat veggies.

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Chocolate for Heart Health

Since high blood pressure is such a significant and pervasive health issue in this country, I pay attention to the new research on it. I always stick with the basics of a healthy diet, such as one high in veggies and fruits. Many people with high blood pressure need the minerals like potassium that can be found in veggies, but new research shows us that there are other compounds in the plant world that can be helpful. One example is flavonols, antioxidants found in grapes, apples, red wine, tea and cocoa. I am going to focus on this last one because there has been a surge in research on the heart benefits of cocoa and chocolate.

A recent analysis of many different studies showed that dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure by a few points. This isn’t a huge reduction but could be added to other interventions to reach a healthy goal. More importantly, another multi-study analysis showed that people who ate 2 servings of chocolate per week had a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 29% lower stroke risk. These benefits are partially attributed to the cocoa flavanols antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. These cocoa compounds are also thought to help prevent atherosclerotic plaque formation in the arteries and improve insulin sensitivity to support better blood sugar control. Of particular interest was another recent study showing improved cognitive functioning among elderly adults who consumed higher amounts of cocoa. The study’s authors noted that the effects in cognition were most closely linked to the improvements in insulin sensitivity.

One of the big worries about chocolate is that it often comes in high fat and high sugar forms. Too much chocolate consumption could contribute to weight gain, which can increase blood pressure and other health problems. For chocolate, find a bar that has a low sugar content and high cocoa content. Cocoa nibs are another option since they are unsweetened. Maybe limit chocolate consumption to twice a week like in the heart health study, since that seemed to be sufficient. On the non-chocolate days, consider having other blood pressure reducing foods like green, black, and hibiscus teas.