What Do Baked Potatoes Have To Do With Stroke?

New research indicates that if older adults want to lower their risk of getting a stroke, one of the best things they can do is eat more high-potassium foods.

That would be things like baked potatoes with the skin, cooked spinach, orange juice, bananas, yogurt, acorn squash, raisins and beans.

People whose diet contains plenty of these foods may be less likely to suffer a stroke than those who get little of the mineral, according to a recent study reported in the journal Stroke. The Swedish researchers analyzed 10 international studies involving more than 200,000 middle-aged and older adults.

An even larger analysis, published last year in the British Medical Journal, found a similar effect: A higher potassium intake decreased stroke risk by 24 percent in people with high blood pressure. All that was needed was an extra two to three servings of fruits or vegetables a day.

In the Swedish study, researchers found that stroke risk decreased as people’s reported potassium intake went up. For every 1,000 mg. increase in daily potassium, the odds of suffering a stroke in the next five to 14 years dropped by 11 percent.

A second Swedish study examining the relationship between stroke risk and potassium in older women found similar results. Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, it found that among women ages 49 to 83 with a history of high blood pressure, a lower risk of stroke was linked to a diet high in potassium.

The lead researcher in both Swedish studies, Susanna C. Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, says the findings don’t prove that it’s potassium alone that produces the positive effect, because high-potassium foods are generally healthy ones, “but (the findings) strengthen existing evidence that it might,” she told Reuters.

Potassium is an electrolyte needed for maintaining the body’s fluid balance and is involved in blood pressure regulation.

Potassium’s effect was specifically linked to a reduced risk of ischemic strokes, the ones caused by a blockage in an artery to the brain. Ischemic strokes account for about 80 percent of all strokes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines recommend that adults get 4,700 mg. a day of potassium from food. The average American, according to some nutrition surveys, gets only about 2,600 mg.

Some people need to be careful about potassium, however, including those with kidney disease, or who are on certain blood pressure drugs. Talk to your doctor.

Here are some potassium-rich foods:

Acorn squash, cooked, 1 cup: 896 mg.

Baked potato with skin: 844 mg.

Spinach, cooked, 1 cup: 838 mg.

Lentils, cooked, 1 cup: 731 mg.

Kidney beans, cooked, 1 cup: 713 mg.

Split peas, cooked, 1 cup: 710 mg.

Sweet potato, baked: 694 mg.

Butternut squash, cooked, 1 cup: 583 mg.

Raisins, 1/2 cup: 553 mg.

Avocado, 3 ounces: 540 mg.

Yogurt, low-fat, plain, 1 cup: 531 mg.

Halibut, cooked, 3 ounces: 490 mg.

Banana, medium: 451 mg.

Cantaloupe, 1/4 : 412 mg.

Rainbow trout, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces: 382 mg.

Orange juice, 3/4 cup: 355 mg.

Milk, low-fat, 1 cup: 348 mg.

Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup: 332 mg.

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Photo credits: Banana: health.ezinemark.com

orange juice: REL Waldman via flickr.com

baked potato: Barry Gregg/Corbis