As Americans, we know we get in much more of the mineral sodium than what is for our own good. But there is another mineral sharing some of the same functions as sodium many of us underconsume – potassium.
Potassium and sodium work closely together in the body and are both major cations (positively charged ions) of intracellular fluid. Potassium is one of the electrolytes along with sodium, helping to maintain the body’s fluid balance. These electrolytes are also crucial in muscle contraction, acid-base homeostasis, and maintaining several cardiovascular functions.
How much potassium do we need?
Many adults across the nation fall far below the recommendation for potassium. This prompted the 2015 Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to call potassium a “nutrient of public health concern.” The Institute of Medicine has set the Adequate Intake (AI) for potassium for adults in the United States at 4700 mg per day. Only 3% of older adults meet the AI for potassium which is troublesome since this age group is at a greater risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Here are reasons to make sure your potassium intake is adequate:
• Potassium increases nitric oxide production helping to protect the endothelium, layers of cells lining our blood vessels, and increasing blood flow.
• Research has shown an inverse relationship between potassium intake and arterial stiffness in young adults.
• The potassium found in fruits and vegetables has an alkalizing effect leading to an increased alkaline environment resulting in less calcium being lost from the body.
• Potassium helps your heart to beat helping to prevent heart rhythm issues.
• Because potassium is found in primarily in fruits and vegetables, your dietary intake of saturated fat is automatically lowered – it’s not found in fruits or vegetables – keeping your cholesterol levels in check reducing the risk of heart disease.
• Potassium helps to moderate blood pressure. It appears to help reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults. One study showed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy can lower systolic pressure by more than 10 points in people with high blood pressure.
“Potassium keeps your blood pressure under control,” stated Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “However, be aware that too much potassium can damage the gastrointestinal tract and the heart, and can cause potentially life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias.”
Best food choices of potassium
Ask a person what is a good food source of potassium and almost always they’ll say bananas. Yes, bananas are rich in potassium but so are many other foods you can choose from to obtain this necessary mineral. Here is a list of potassium-rich foods:
FOOD SERVING SIZE POTASSIUM (MG)
Potato, baked in skin 1 medium 941
Prunes 1 cup 687
Tomato Paste ¼ cup 669
Beet greens, cooked ½ cup 654
Adzuki beans ½ cup 612
White beans ½ cup 595
Yogurt, nonfat 1 cup 579
Sweet potato, baked in skin 1 medium 542
Swiss chard ½ cup 481
Banana 1 medium 442
Spinach, cooked ½ cup 370 to 419
Keep your focus on adding the above foods to your daily diet along with these other ideas for boosting potassium intake:
• Since many of the best sources of potassium are fruits and vegetables, make a point each to include produce at each meal.
• Swap foods high in sodium (primarily highly processed foods) with more plant-based foods.
• Many of the potassium-rich foods listed can easily be added to soups, stews or salads.
• Dried fruit is another great source of potassium. Dried apricots, prunes, peaches, and mangos eaten as a snack or added to oatmeal, breakfast cereal or added in a trial mix will help you get in the potassium you need