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More Potassium, Fewer Strokes

There are few medical conditions that people fear more than a stroke. We know that blood pressure control and lowering cholesterol levels reduces stroke risk. Now, thanks to a huge analysis from Italy published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, we know that higher dietary consumption of potassium is associated with lower rates of stroke and could also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and total cardiovascular disease, too. What is even more remarkable is that the results apply to all parts of society and not just to specific “at-risk” subgroups.

Most doctors aren’t even aware of how important it is to eat potassium-rich foods. And what are these foods that have potassium? Surprise: It’s fruits and vegetables like bananas, tomatoes, oranges, apricots, most legumes, spinach, winter squash, avocado, kiwi, and cantaloupe. Actually, almost all fruits and veggies have moderate to high potassium content.

The researchers looked a number of well-done studies that included 247, 510 participants over age 30 and found that those patients with the higher potassium intake reduced their stroke risk by 21 percent. The Italian doctors say the protective effect of potassium against stroke is in part due to its blood pressure lowering effects and also due to other properties of the potassium mineral, such as the inhibition of free radical formation.

I’ve written before about the DASH diet, which also found that reduction of sodium and addition of fruits and vegetables to the diet is an effective way to control blood pressure. The DASH diet is high in potassium.

Think about it: Did you have five servings of fruits and vegetables today? Numerous studies have shown their life-prolonging benefits. This new study just adds to what we already know. I challenge all readers to keep a diet count and make sure you are eating five fruit and vegetable servings a day — every day — to help reduce your risk of stroke, cancer, and heart attack.

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

We’re Overdosing On Sodium: Whose Responsibility Is It?

I confess to loving Campbell’s tomato bisque soup. I mix it with 1 percent-fat milk and it’s hot and delicious and comforting, but one of the worst food choices I could make because one cup contains more sodium than I should have in a day. Knowing this, I have already relegated it to an occasional treat. But by the end of this blog post I will do more.

We are overdosing on sodium and it is killing us. We need to cut the sodium we eat daily by more than half. The guidelines keep coming. The U.S. government has handed out dietary guidelines telling Americans who are over 50, all African Americans, people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease to have no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) — or two thirds of a teaspoon — of sodium daily. That’s the majority of us — 69 percent. Five years ago the government said that this group would benefit from the lower sodium and now it made this its recommendation. The other 31 percent of the country can have up to 2,300 mg a day, say the guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Or should they? The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that all Americans lower sodium to less than 1,500 mg a day. Excessive sodium, mostly found in salt, is bad for us because it causes high blood pressure which often leads to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease and can also cause gastric problems. People with heart failure are taught to restrict salt because water follows salt into the blood and causes swelling of the ankles, legs, and abdomen and lung congestion that makes it difficult to breathe.

I saw one recommendation by an individual on the Internet to just drink a lot of water to flush the sodium out of your body rather than worry about eating foods that have less sodium. BAD idea, especially for people with heart problems who need to restrict fluids to help prevent fluid accumulation in their bodies. The salt will draw the water to it.

But cutting our salt consumption by half is quite a tall order for an individual consumer because Americans have been conditioned from childhood to love salt and we on average consume 3,436 mg — nearly one and a half teaspoons — a day. Sodium is pervasive in our food supply. We get most of our sodium from processed foods and restaurant and takeout food, sometime in unexpected places. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HeartSense*

New Dietary Guidelines Give Little New Guidance

There isn’t much new in the latest iteration of the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” Three years in the making, the 2010 guidelines (released a tad late, on January 31, 2011) offer the usual advice about eating less of the bad stuff (salt; saturated fat, trans fats, and cholesterol; and refined grains) and more of the good stuff (fruits and vegetables; whole grains; seafood, beans, and other lean protein; and unsaturated fats). I’ve listed the 23 main recommendations below. You can also find them on the “Dietary Guidelines” website.

The guidelines do break some new ground. They state loudly and clearly that overweight and obesity are a leading nutrition problem in the United States, and that a healthy diet can help people achieve a healthy weight. They also ratchet down sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day (about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt) for African Americans and people with high blood pressure or risk factors for it, such as kidney disease or diabetes. But the guidelines also leave the recommendation for sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day for everyone else, a move that the American Heart Association and others call “a step backward.”

Vague language spoils the message

One big problem with the guidelines is that they continue to use the same nebulous language that has made previous versions poor road maps for the average person wanting to adopt a healthier diet.

Here’s an example: The new guidelines urge Americans to eat less “solid fat.” What, exactly, does that mean — stop spooning up lard or Crisco? No. Solid fat is a catchphrase for red meat, butter, cheese, ice cream, and other full-fat dairy foods. But the guidelines can’t say that, since they are partly created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA), the agency charged with promoting the products of American farmers and ranchers, which includes red meat and dairy products. “Added sugars” is another circumlocution, a stand-in for sugar-sweetened sodas, many breakfast cereals, and other foods that provide huge doses of sugar and few, or no, nutrients. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

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