If you want your diet to build health, learn about foods high in potassium and make sure you eat them often. Potassium is needed by each cell in your body.
Potassium is a mineral necessary for every single cell in your body to function normally. It’s important for muscle contraction, nerve transmission, normal heart rhythm, and kidney function. And potassium is crucial for optimum cardiovascular function and health, too.
In fact, a diet that includes foods high in potassium can help lower a major risk for heart disease and stroke — high blood pressure. People who rarely eat adequate amounts of foods high in potassium are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), especially if they consume meals and snacks loaded with salt.
So, if you have high blood pressure, your doctor may advise eating more foods high in potassium and decreasing salt in your diet. It’s as a lifestyle strategy that can help treat hypertension, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes.
More reasons to eat foods high in potassium
Researchers are studying other ways potassium is important to health, according to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). For example, studies show taking in too little potassium raises the risk of developing kidney stones.
What’s more, people who eat a diet high in potassium, especially from fruits and vegetables, appear to have stronger bones than those who skimp on potassium-rich meals — probably because potassium increases bone density, the ODS explains.
Low intakes of potassium may play a role in increasing insulin resistance, too, a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes. However, more research is needed to understand how and why potassium impacts blood sugar levels.
Foods high in potassium are plentiful and varied
Potassium is found in so many foods, it’s not hard to boost your dietary intake of this important mineral. Simply plan your meals around a variety of potassium-rich foods including:
- Fruits, such as bananas, dried apricots, oranges, prunes, and raisins
- Acorn squash
- Lentils, kidney beans, and soybeans
- Milk and yogurt
- Meats, poultry, and fish.
How much potassium do you need?
The average daily recommended amount of potassium for teens and adults is around 4,700 mg daily, according to the NIH. Breastfeeding moms are an exception. They need about 5,100 mg or potassium each day.
Unfortunately, the typical diets of most people in the U.S. provide much less than these recommended amounts of potassium, possibly because of too many meals of fast and processed foods, which lack the mineral.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides an online data base listing foods rich in potassium and the amount of the mineral you consume in a specific measurement (like ½ or one cup). For example, a cup of mashed potatoes contains almost 4,000 mg of potassium, a cup of orange juice has about 1700 mg, and a big slice of baked turkey breast will net you about 2600 mg.
Use the extensive and detailed list (which includes some restaurant fare) to search for potassium-loaded foods you enjoy and can make part of a healthy diet.
Warning! Skip potassium supplements unless prescribed
Some people are more likely than others to have abnormally low levels of potassium in their bodies, including people with inflammatory bowel diseases such as colitis or Crohn’s disease, and those who frequently take diuretics, laxatives, and other medications. They may need potassium supplements, but only under doctor supervision.
However, too high levels of potassium can cause serious consequences. Potassium can build up in the body if you have kidney disease or take certain medications, including angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, also called ACE inhibitors, and potassium-sparing diuretics. In addition, potassium is an ingredient in salt substitutes many people use to replace table salt.
That’s why it’s important, if you have any chronic health problem or take prescription medications, to talk to your doctor before taking any potassium supplements or using a salt substitute.
Bottom line? Potassium rich foods are the healthy choice
The vast majority of people should get most of their nutrients, including potassium, from food, according to the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Potassium-rich foods have not been shown to cause any harm if you are healthy and have normal kidney function. Any excess potassium from food is simply eliminated in your urine.
December 14, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN