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Eat more fruit and vegetables and cut down on salt for best blood pressure lowering
Cutting down on salt will make a dramatic difference in lowering your blood pressure and your risk of heart attack or stroke. But you can boost this reduction even further by eating more fruit and vegetables.
Fruit and vegetables contain potassium, a chemical that counters the effects of sodium (contained in salt):
- Sodium raises your blood pressure by making your body hold on to more fluid
- Potassium encourages your body to remove fluid, lowering your blood pressure.
American researchers have found that the ratio of sodium-to-potassium in a person's urine is a much better indicator of a person's risk of heart problems or stroke in later life than just looking at sodium or potassium levels on their own. It seems that the higher the ratio of potassium to sodium, the lower a person's blood pressure.
These findings suggest that people should both cut down on their salt intake and boost their fruit and vegetables intake at the same time to have the greatest blood pressure lowering effect. Currently the UK Government recommends that adults eat no more than 6g of salt a day. The American researchers suggest that adults should also eat 4.7 grams of potassium a day to increase the effect. However, people taking certain blood pressure medications (such as diuretics) or who have certain conditions (such as kidney problems) should seek medical advice before increasing their potassium intake.
Because eating too much potassium can cause heart problems, it is recommended that people increase their potassium intake by eating more fruit and vegetables, rather than taking a potassium supplement. Good sources of potassium include: potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, tomato sauce, orange juice, tuna, yoghurt and fat-free milk.
The study, known as the Trials of Hypertension Prevention, looked at the average sodium and potassium intake of 2,974 people over two study periods. The people were initially aged between 30-54 years and had blood pressure readings that were just below those defined as high. They were studied for the next 10-15 years to see if they developed heart disease or stroke.
Those with the highest sodium levels in their urine were 20% more likely to suffer strokes, heart attacks or other forms of cardiovascular disease compared with their counterparts with the lowest sodium levels. However this was not a statistically significant link.
However, when the sodium to potassium ratios were measured, the result was statistically significant. People with the highest sodium-to-potassium ratio in urine were 50% more likely to experience cardiovascular disease than those with the lowest sodium-to-potassium ratios.
For more on how to lower your salt intake while boosting the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat, please use the links below.
Nancy R. Cook; Eva Obarzanek; Jeffrey A. Cutler; Julie E. Buring; Kathryn M. Rexrode; Shiriki K. Kumanyika; Lawrence J. Appel; Paul K. Whelton; for the Trials of Hypertension Prevention Collaborative Research Group. Joint Effects of Sodium and Potassium Intake on Subsequent Cardiovascular Disease: The Trials of Hypertension Prevention Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med, Jan 2009; 169: 32 - 40.
Topics: Research, Lifestyle, High blood pressure