Most people take the health of their heart for granted when they’re young. That’s one reason so few people eat a heart-healthy diet, but eating for heart health involves more than changing the macronutrient composition of your diet by choosing healthier fats. A component of your diet that you may not have considered, minerals, also impact the health of your heart. When you have enough of certain types of minerals in your diet, it improves blood vessel function in a way that reduces your risk for heart disease.
Minerals and Health: How Minerals Impact the Health of Your Heart
One of the most important minerals you need for a healthy heart is magnesium. Research shows that magnesium affects blood vessel function by altering endothelial function, the ability of blood vessels to dilate or relax. When endothelial function is impaired, it leads to damage in the blood vessel wall. This sets up a chain of events that can lead to heart disease or a stroke. Research has already shown a link between heart disease and magnesium deficiency. That’s why it’s important to get enough magnesium in your diet.
Another way poor endothelial function increases your risk for heart disease and stroke is by its effect on blood pressure. When blood vessels don’t relax enough, it causes blood pressure to rise and put additional strain on your heart. According to a study published in the Journal of Hypertension, you can reduce your blood pressure by as much as 5 points by increasing the amount of magnesium in your diet by 1,000 milligrams a day. Even if you’re on blood pressure medications for hypertension, getting more magnesium through diet improves your response to them.
Another way magnesium may lower the risk of heart disease is by its effect on insulin sensitivity. Research shows diets rich in magnesium improve insulin sensitivity, especially in diabetics. That’s important for preventing metabolic syndrome – a common condition characterized by insulin resistance, hypertension and lipid abnormalities that increase the risk for heart disease.
Potassium: Another Heart-Healthy Mineral
Potassium is another key mineral that impacts heart health. Eating a potassium-rich diet improves blood pressure control by countering the effects of sodium. You’ll get more bang for your buck by increasing BOTH the amount of magnesium and potassium in your diet since the two seem to have an additive effect on blood pressure control.
More Magnesium and Potassium, Please
How can you add more magnesium to your diet? Bring on the legumes and nuts! Lentils are one of the best sources of dietary magnesium and cashews and almonds rank close behind. Whole grain foods, particularly bran, is a good source – but don’t forget the green, leafy vegetables. Most greens, particularly spinach and Swiss chard, are also good sources of magnesium.
How about potassium? Bananas should be at the top of your list since they’re a good source of both potassium and magnesium. Most fruits and vegetables you find on the produce stand have respectable amounts of potassium. Orange juice, winter squash, avocados, and tomatoes are some of the best sources. Bran, whole grains, milk, and yogurt are also potassium-rich foods. One caveat – if you have a history of kidney disease, talk to your doctor before increasing the amount of potassium in your diet.
The Bottom Line?
Magnesium and potassium are two of the most important minerals for a healthy heart. Make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. It’s best to get magnesium and potassium from whole foods so you can enjoy the other heart-healthy benefits – fiber and healthy sources of fat. Take care of your heart. It never stops working for you – nor do you want it to!
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The Journal of Clinical Hypertension. Volume 13, Issue 11. (2011)
Harvard Medical School Guide. “Potassium Lowers Blood Pressure”
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