Amazing Facts About Potassium

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Potassium is a crucial electrolyte in the diet, enabling nerves to transmit messages to and from the brain. It contributes to the functionality of cells and tissues, as well as the majority of the organs in the human body. Potassium, along with other minerals, is also major contributors to nervous system functions. Without potassium, our muscles would be unable to contract and relax; muscle contractions are responsible for cardiovascular and digestive processes as well.

There are plenty of sources of potassium, but deficiency still occurs in most parts of the world, including western countries like the US, New Zealand, and Australia. The balance of this mineral is crucial for health maintenance, as too much or too little can cause paralysis, heart rhythm problems, and death in extreme cases.

Potassium and Sodium

Potassium intake decreases the numerous negative effects of excessive sodium intake. According to the American Heart Association, we should only have 1,500 milligrams or less of sodium. 

1. Today’s American diet ramps intake up to as much as 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. This much excess can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, or a heart attack.

An increase in dietary potassium has the potential of decreasing sodium levels in the bloodstream. However, a lot of functions in our bodies excrete potassium. 

2. Despite a relatively healthy potassium intake, our kidneys still excrete a considerable amount of potassium from our blood through our urine. A hormone that conserves sodium also tends to make our bodies excrete potassium.

Drinking caffeinated drinks, excessive amounts of water, alcohol, and sugar can also be responsible for “potassium wasting,” or excessive excretion of this mineral from our bodies. Having too little potassium can lead to cramps, difficulty breathing, constipation, as well as muscle weakness and paralysis that usually starts with the legs.

Diuretics for health concerns prescribed by doctors also have a potential of potassium-wasting. When prescribed diuretics, ask your doctor for what needs to be done or prescribed to balance out the possible potassium deficiency. You may need to be tested regularly for potassium levels in the bloodstream.

Potassium in our diet

The American Heart Association recommends 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. If we get enough potassium in our bodies, we even get the added benefit of excreting the excess sodium. For optimal effects, however, start practicing the following suggestions:

• Eat a diet high in fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, particularly the ones high in potassium.
• Read labels of packaged and processed food; avoid sauces, meats and canned products that have high sodium contents.
• Avoid the AHA’s “Salty Six” which include canned soups, fast food sandwiches, pre-dressed poultry, pizza, cold cuts and cured meats, and excessive servings of bread. [3]

Foods highest in Potassium

Baked russet potatoes, raw green soybeans, cooked lima beans, cooked amaranth leaves, and winter squash, all cooked without salt, are the healthiest forms of potassium available, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. [4] Bananas, avocados, oranges and orange juices, cantaloupes, and apricots are also good sources of this mineral.


References:

[1] Striking a Balance: Less Sodium (Salt), More Potassium. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Striking-a-Balance-Less-Sodium-Salt-More-Potassium_UCM_440429_Article.jsp

[2] Role of Potassium in Maintaining Health. Periodic Paralysis International. http://hkpp.org/patients/potassium-health

[3] The Salty Six Infographic. American Heart Association. https://healthyforgood.heart.org/eat-smart/infographics/salty-six-infographic

[4] Potassium and Sodium Abridged list, Ordered by Nutrient Content. United States Department of Agriculture. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/report/nutrientsfrm?max=25&offset=0&totCount=0&nutrient1=306&nutrient2=307&nutrient3=&subset=1&fg=11&sort=c&measureby=m