While nearly all Americans (99.4%) consume more sodium than is recommended by the American Heart Association, less than 2% of adults meet the recommendation for potassium. Why so much sodium and not enough potassium? It has to do with the types of foods we get these important minerals from.
Potassium and sodium are essential nutrients we need called minerals (along with calcium, phosphorus, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, chromium, copper, fluoride, molybdenum, manganese, and selenium). Some of these are trace minerals and we need just a little bit of them. But others are called macrominerals, and we need more of those. The macrominerals that we need the most of are calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and sodium. Minerals have a big job in the body, and their main purpose is to regulate flow and disbursement of body fluids (including blood), to form body tissues (bone, teeth, muscles and nerves), keep nerves functioning properly, and regulate muscle tone.
We tend to get plenty of sodium since the Standard American Diet is loaded with processed foods and drinks that are high in salt (plus high in added sugars and poor-quality oils). And phosphorus is abundant in many foods and drinks, including carbonated beverages, so most Americans get enough of that mineral, as well. But we often fall short on the other macrominerals: potassium, magnesium, and calcium. While you can help meet your need for magnesium and calcium with a supplement, multivitamin with minerals, or some fortified foods, it’s typically not recommended to get potassium from anywhere other than food. In influxuation of too much or too little potassium too quickly could upset the chemical balance of this nutrient, and could even be life threatening, which is why a potassium supplement is not recommended.
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6 reasons to eat more potassium foods
Potassium comes from many healthy whole-food sources, such as dairy, fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts, potatoes, rice, and beans. Here’s why you should be sure you’re getting enough from those food sources:
- It helps your blood pressure: Since potassium can help rid the body of excess sodium (a blood pressure-raising mineral), a potassium-rich diet can help reduce blood pressure, especially in people with known hypertension.
- It could prevent kidney stones: Kidney stones form from calcium and other particles that form in concentrated urine, potassium is known to lower calcium levels in urine which could help prevent kidney stones.
- It can reduce water retention: Potassium has long been known to be counter to excess fluid buildup in the body. Studies show that potassium can reduce water retention by decreasing sodium in the body (which retains water) and increasing urine production.
- It blunts the impact of too much sodium: We already know that a majority of Americans take in too much sodium, but a potassium-rich diet can help remove sodium from the body and counteract a diet that is too-high in sodium.
- It’s good for your muscles: Too-low potassium can alter nerve signals and reduce blood flow to muscles, causing muscle contractions to be weak or muscles to cramp. Your most important muscle, your heart, also needs sodium to keep pumping blood efficiently through your body.
- You get it from delicious, healthy foods: The good news about potassium is that you can get what your body needs by eating plenty of healthy, whole-foods, such as dairy, fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts, potatoes, rice, and beans. Did you know that Otamot, which is made from 10 organic vegetables, contains one-third of your daily potassium needs in just 1 cup of sauce?
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The bottom line: Aim to build more potassium-rich foods into your diet so you can reap the benefits of this powerful mineral.
Jessie Shafer is a registered dietitian-nutritionist, team member at The Real Food Dietitians, former magazine editor, and busy mom of two who loves to share the power of nutrition.
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