If you don’t eat enough potassium, you might raise your risk of getting painful muscle cramps. But not eating enough potassium can also have a more serious consequence: Low levels of the mineral may increase your chances of developing heart disease, new research in JCI Insight suggests, which is why you should add foods like avocado, bananas, and potatoes to your diet.
In the study, researchers separated mice at risk of heart disease into three groups: One was fed a low-potassium diet, the second a normal-potassium diet, and the third a high-potassium diet. Then the researchers performed an echocardiography, or an imaging test of the heart, to get a closer look at their arteries.
They discovered that the rodents fed a low-potassium diet showed greater measures of arterial stiffness and calcification, which can lead to plaque buildup in your vessels. Both blood vessel effects can be bad news for your heart, potentially putting you at risk of heart disease or a heart attack.
But eating a high-potassium diet seemed to protect against the calcification development, the researchers found.
Low potassium diets increased the amount of calcium inside the smooth muscle cells in the blood vessels, the researchers said in a statement. They also triggered the expression of certain genetic markers that could make the development of calcification more likely.
Still, the research was conducted on mice, so it’s not exactly clear whether the same findings would apply to people, too. But previous research on humans has pointed to heart-healthy benefits of potassium, particularly in that it can help control blood pressure levels, especially when sodium intake is high.
So make it a point to hit the daily recommended amount of potassium a day, which is 4,700 milligrams (mg), to protect your heart. Some high-potassium hits? A baked potato contains 610 mg, one half of an avocado contains 487 mg, and a medium banana contains 422 mg. Other options include raisins, artichokes, milk, and spinach.