What's more, high salt consumption coupled with low potassium intake was a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease and heart disease, the researchers added.
"We should continue to reduce the amount of sodium in our diet, especially in processed foods," Hu said. "We should also promote high consumption of potassium, especially from fruits and vegetables," he added. "Those things should go hand-in-hand."
While the study uncovered an association between heart disease and the two minerals, it did not prove a cause-and-effect.
Commenting on the study, Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said, "The findings are not surprising to me."
The benefits of potassium to counterbalance the effects of salt for controlling high blood pressure have been known for years, but get little attention, Sandon said. "There have been hints in the past research literature that the ratio of the two may be more important than the nutrients individually," she said.
Diets with plenty of fruits and vegetables are associated with better heart health, Sandon said. "Fruits and vegetables are your best natural sources of potassium and they are naturally low in sodium," she explained.
"I agree with the authors that more emphasis should be put on the importance of getting more potassium while lowering sodium intake," Sandon said.
"The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet does just that and has been around for quite some time now," she stated. "It encourages people to eat more foods high in potassium (fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy) while eating less sodium-laden foods."
Sandon noted that this is consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which encourage increased fruit and vegetable intake while lowering intake of foods high in sodium.
Those guidelines recommend that
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