By Mark Waghorn via SWNS
A banana a day could protect older women against a heart attack or stroke, according to new research.
The fruit is rich in potassium - an essential mineral that lowers blood pressure.
Regular consumption combats cardiovascular disease - the world's biggest killer, say scientists. It even reduces the harmful effects of a high salt diet.
Other foods with high quantities of the chemical include salmon and avocados - the main ingredient in trendy guacamole.
Lead author Professor Liffert Vogt, of the University of Amsterdam in Holland, said: "It is well known high salt consumption is associated with elevated blood pressure and a raised risk of heart attacks and strokes.
"Health advice has focused on limiting salt intake but this is difficult to achieve when our diets include processed foods.
"Potassium helps the body excrete more sodium in the urine. In our study, dietary potassium was linked with the greatest health gains in women."
The findings are based on almost 25,000 over 40s in the UK tracked for two decades, on average.
As daily potassium increased, blood pressure went down - in women with high salt intake.
Every additional gram was associated with a 2.4 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure - the force at which the heart beats.
Potassium is also found in other fruits along with vegetables, nuts, seeds, milk, fish, beef, chicken, turkey and bread. In men, there was no association with blood pressure.
Prof Vogt said: "The results suggest potassium helps preserve heart health, but that women benefit more than men.
"The relationship between potassium and cardiovascular events was the same regardless of salt intake, suggesting that potassium has other ways of protecting the heart on top of increasing sodium excretion."
Participants were members of the EPIC-Norfolk study recruited from general practices across the county between 1993 and 1997.
They completed a questionnaire on lifestyle habits. Blood pressure was also measured and a urine sample collected.
The volunteers were divided into six groups of low, medium and high according to estimates of both potassium and salt intake.
Overall, those with the most potassium in their diet had a 13 percent lower risk of heart attacks or strokes compared to peers with the least.
Corresponding risk reductions were seven and eleven percent for men and women, respectively.
Vogt added: "Our findings indicate a heart healthy diet goes beyond limiting salt to boosting potassium content.
"Food companies can help by swapping standard sodium-based salt for a potassium salt alternative in processed foods.
"On top of that, we should all prioritize fresh, unprocessed foods since they are both rich in potassium and low in salt."
During the study, 13,596 (55%) participants were hospitalized or died due to cardiovascular disease.
The Dutch team took into account age, sex, BMI (body mass index), sodium intake, use of cholesterol lowering drugs, smoking, alcohol intake, diabetes and prior heart attack or stroke.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults consume at least 3.5 grams of potassium a day and no more than a teaspoon, less than five grams, of salt.
They advise eating lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, dairy products and fish. A 4oz banana has 375 mg of potassium, 5oz of cooked salmon has 780 mg, a 136 gram potato has 500 mg and half a pint of milk 375 mg.
The Department of Health advises that older people should not have potassium supplements unless advised to take them by a doctor.
It says that adults should be able to get enough from eating a balanced diet. The study is in the European Heart Journal.
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