Eat a Lot of Salt? Protect Your Heart With Potassium-Rich Foods

A tipped over salt shaker on a blue background; there's a heart drawn into the spilled salt.

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Key Takeaways

  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States.
  • A new study found that women who ate a high-sodium diet got heart health benefits from upping their intake of potassium-rich foods, especially when it came to blood pressure.
  • Even if you’re eating more potassium, you should still try to limit your sodium intake to support your heart health.

Salt (or sodium) is what makes a side of fries or briny olives so tasty. However, enjoying too many salty snacks can have health risks. Data has shown that for every 1 gram increase in daily sodium intake, a person’s cardiovascular disease risk goes up by 6%.

While the most straightforward way to prevent the negative effects of eating sodium is to limit your intake of the tasty mineral, a new study has shown that there’s another step that could offer heart-health benefits—especially for women.

Sodium, Potassium, and Heart Health

Potassium is a key component of a heart-healthy diet. In fact, a recent study published in the European Heart Journal showed just how important potassium intake is for cardiovascular health—especially for women.

To explore how sodium and potassium intakes were linked to cardiovascular health, the researchers analyzed health data on more almost 25,000 middle-aged and older adults in the United Kingdom.

The participants provided information about their diets, had their blood pressure measurements taken, and gave urine samples. The researchers used the urine to check the participants’ potassium and sodium levels.

Based on the data they collected, the researchers grouped the participants based on their sodium and potassium intakes: high, medium, or low.

Why Would Women Get More Benefits?

The results suggested that sodium and potassium intakes were linked to blood pressure levels in some of the women in the study. Specifically, the women who consumed a high-salt diet seemed to get the most cardiovascular health benefits when they also had higher potassium intakes. Their blood pressure decreased 2.4 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) for every additional gram of potassium.

Liffert Vogt, MD, PhD, a nephrologist in Amsterdam and one of the investigators on the study, told Verywell that the different effects observed between the sexes were surprising.

While Vogt can’t say exactly why the benefit was seen in women and not in men, she suggested one explanation could be that “the kidneys are better at excreting excessive salt into the urine in women as compared to men.”

Vogt also pointed out that dietary sources of potassium might be different between men and women.

That’s not to say that only women benefitted from eating potassium-rich foods. After the 20-year follow-up, the researchers found that the people who got the most potassium in their diets were also the least likely to have cardiovascular events or die, regardless of their sex.

More Potassium Won’t a Make a High-Salt Diet Healthy

There are some limitations to the study—including that the measures of potassium and sodium only represented just one moment in time and the results were based on urine samples, and it was not a randomized double-blind study.

However, the results do offer a step that people who are trying to support their heart health might consider when it comes to optimizing their nutrient intake.

“Heart disease is the number one cause of death in women in the U.S., but previous recommendations to ‘limit salt intake’ don’t seem to go far enough in terms of preventing negative outcomes,” Melissa Azzaro, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and podcast host at Hormonally Yours, told Verywell. “[This study] demonstrates that potassium may be a crucial missing piece of the puzzle.”

Shake Off the Salt

At least for women, it seems like consuming more potassium foods, like produce and beans, may help offset some of the negative effects of a high-salt diet.

“If you’ve been told to limit salt in your diet, you may also want to consider adding potassium-rich foods to reap the full benefits,” Azzaro said.

Can You Get Too Much Potassium?

If you can get too much salt in your diet, could you also get too much potassium? Vogt said that’s generally not a concern for people with normal kidney function.

However, it’s important to be clear that the study is not saying that you can eat as much salt as you want as long as you’re getting enough potassium in your diet.

“Restricting sodium in our diets is still very crucial,” said Vogt, though she acknowledged it can be hard to cut back, especially considering how many of the foods in a standard American diet contain high amounts of it.

Pile on Potassium

With that in mind, including more potassium-rich foods in your diet while also trying to limit your sodium intake can be one of the best things you can do for your heart.

Here are a few simple ways to get more potassium in your diet:

  • Add sliced avocados to sandwiches for a boost of potassium and magnesium (another mineral that supports healthy blood pressure).
  • Start your morning with a glass of 100% orange juice, which is packed with vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids (like hesperidin and naringenin) that support heart health.
  • Have fresh watermelon for dessert. The juicy fruit is full of potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C.
  • Add a handful of walnuts to oatmeal, yogurt, or a salad. These tasty nuts are a great source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that may support heart health.

What This Means For You

If you tend to eat a lot of salty foods, taking steps to cut back on your sodium intake while also adding more potassium-rich foods to your diet could support your cardiovascular health—especially if you’re a woman.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women and heart disease.

  2. Wang YJ, Yeh TL, Shih MC, Tu YK, Chien KL. Dietary sodium intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):2934. doi:10.3390/nu12102934

  3. Wouda RD, Boekholdt SM, Khaw KT, et al. Sex-specific associations between potassium intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular outcomes: the EPIC-Norfolk study. Eur Heart J. 2022;43(30):2867-2875. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehac313