All-essential potassium

by Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator

This article was originally published in August 2013

How much potassium do I need to thrive?

Our bodies need more potassium than any other vitamin or mineral — more each day than calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous and zinc combined! Thankfully, summertime’s sweet bounty of potassium-rich fruits makes it easier to meet the daily recommendation of 4,700 mg. Here’s a look at what makes it so vital.

Electrolyte support

Potassium is classified as a mineral, but also provides an electrical charge that maintains just the right balance within our cells. This electrolyte function makes potassium-rich foods a popular remedy for muscle cramps.

Blood pressure management

High sodium foods are known to raise blood pressure, while foods rich in potassium help lower it. Eating more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is the most effective dietary strategy to improve your blood pressure.

Protect your heart

Our dietary ratio of sodium to potassium recently has been identified as an independent risk factor for heart disease. It’s possible that a high ratio of potassium to sodium is simply the marker of a healthier diet, as the foods richest in potassium are fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains, while sodium comes mostly from packaged foods. Today’s Standard American Diet contains twice as much sodium as potassium, while early humans likely consumed as much as ten times more potassium than sodium. The most effective strategy to increase your potassium intake is to eat more fresh produce.

Balance your pH

Eating more potassium-rich foods is one of the most effective ways to alkalize your diet. Foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium create a more alkaline environment in our bodies, making it easier to maintain a neutral pH. Potassium also contributes to better bone health: high sodium/low-potassium diets contribute to an acidic environment that prompts our bodies to pull calcium from our bones as a buffer.

 

Spring/summer

Fruits: peaches, nectarines, watermelon, plums, apricots, tomatoes, berries, cherries, melons (especially cantaloupe), grapes, kiwi

Veggies: spinach, kale, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, cucumbers, summer squash, asparagus, zucchini

 

Fall/winter

Fruits: apples, pears, papaya, mango, citrus

Veggies: eggplant, leeks, onions, bell peppers, rutabagas, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, carrots, mushrooms, pumpkin, sunchokes

 

Year-round

Produce: avocados, bananas, dried fruit (raisins, cherries, figs, dates), mushrooms, onions

Other foods: milk, yogurt, fish, beans and legumes, hazelnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses

 

A snapshot of a potassium-rich day, in milligrams

Breakfast: 2 eggs, ½ cup black beans, (350) ¼ cup salsa (200), corn tortilla, orange juice (375)

Morning snack: 1 banana (420)

Lunch: mixed green salad (800) with sliced avocado (450) and hazelnuts (250)

Afternoon snack: sliced peaches (300) with 1 cup yogurt (350)

Dinner: grilled fish (450), baked potato (600), mixed green salad (800)

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