Here's how to get your daily potassium and why it's so important.
You know what people don’t seem to talk about much? Potassium! Beautiful, wonderful potassium. Sure, we hear about iron and calcium and other crowd pleasers, but I think it is time to give a big round of applause to potassium.
Starring as number 19 on the periodic table and otherwise known as K (for kalium), potassium is an essential nutrient that our bodies rely on for a wide range of functions, including the no-small matter of keeping the heart beating. Yay, potassium!Yet we never hear moms reminding us to eat our potassium. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans tells us that potassium should be increased in the diet; meanwhile, the Institute of Medicine recommendation for Adequate Intake (AI) of potassium is 4700 mg per day. You know how much the average American gets? 2640 mg per day.
A potassium deficiency can lead to a number of symptoms, depending on how deficient a person is; constipation, kidney problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, breathing problems, and heart issues.
But here is why I think we shouldn’t be overlooking potassium; foods rich in it are important for managing high blood pressure because potassium lessens the effects of sodium, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). “The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine. Potassium also helps to ease tension in your blood vessel walls, which helps further lower blood pressure.”
More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, the AHA says, noting:
"The death rate from high blood pressure increased by nearly 11 percent in the United States between 2005 and 2015, and the actual number of deaths rose by almost 38 percent — up to nearly 79,000 by 2015, according to the statistics. Worldwide, high blood pressure affects nearly a third of the adult population and is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease-related deaths…"
For tackling high blood pressure, the majority of sources say that the main lines of defense are exercise, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and reducing sodium, not smoking, and losing pounds if obese or overweight – but they also all say to get enough potassium. If lifestyle changes can lower someone's blood pressure and prevent them from requiring medication, it's just a more sustainable option all around.
So here’s my question: Do you know where to get potassium? Bananas, right? They’re pretty good, but there are some other sources that are even better. And since the recommended 4700 mg per day is kind of a lot, I thought that compiling a list of potassium-rich snacks would be a good approach (meaning, things like fish and cooked greens were excluded from my collection, even if I am all for snacking on a baked sweet potato).
The following values are from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (Appendix 10):
1. Baked potato, medium with skin: 941 mg potassium (163 calories)
2. Prune juice, 1 cup: 707 mg potassium (182 calories)
3. Plain non-fat yogurt, 1 cup: 579 mg potassium (127 calories)
4. Baked sweet potato, medium with skin: 542 mg potassium (103 calories)
5. Edamame (cooked soybeans) ½ cup: 485 mg potassium (127 calories)
6. Acorn squash, cooked ½ cup: 448 mg potassium (58 calories)
7. Banana, 1 medium: 422 mg potassium (105 calories)
8. Peaches, dried, ¼ cup: 399 mg potassium (96 calories)
9. Stewed prunes, ½ cup: 398 mg potassium (133 calories)
10. Apricots dried, ¼ cup: 378 mg potassium (78 calories)
11. Avocado, ½ cup: 364 mg potassium (120 calories)
I wanted to stick with just one source for nutrient values since different sources show different amounts, but the AHA (and others) include these potassium-rich options as well:
12. Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
13. Fat-free or low-fat milk
14. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (check with your doctor if you’re on a cholesterol-lowering drug)
15. Prunes and prune juice
16. Raisins and dates
So there you go, some love for dear potassium.
NOTE: All of this said, know that potassium can be harmful in people with kidney disease, any condition that affects how the body handles potassium, or those who take certain medications. If you plant to boost your potassium, make sure to talk to your health-care provider.