A Primer on Potassium

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How does potassium affect my heart health?

Potassium is a mineral that your body needs to stay healthy. Foods with potassium can help control blood pressure by blunting the effects of sodium. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you process out of the body. It also helps relax blood vessel walls, which helps lower blood pressure.

How much potassium should I eat?

Most women should get 2,600 milligrams of potassium a day and men 3,400 milligrams a day, but most of us fall short. On average, men eat about 3,000 mg/day, and women eat about 2,300 mg/day.

Potassium is just part of an overall heart-healthy eating pattern. Other dietary factors that may affect blood pressure include amount and type of dietary fat; cholesterol; protein and fiber; calcium and magnesium, and of course, sodium.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk and milk products, whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and unsalted nuts reduced blood pressure compared to a typical American diet. The DASH eating plan also had less sodium; sweets, added sugars and sugar-containing beverages; saturated and trans fats; and red meats than the typical American diet.

What foods have potassium?

Many of the elements of the DASH diet — fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) dairy foods and fish — can be good natural sources of potassium. For example, a medium banana has about 420 mg of potassium , and half a cup of plain mashed sweet potatoes has 475 mg.

Other foods with potassium include:

  • Avocados
  • Potatoes
  • Greens
  • Spinach
  • Mushrooms
  • Lima beans
  • Peas
  • Tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
  • Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (talk to your healthcare provider if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)
  • Prunes and prune juice
  • Apricots and apricot juice
  • Raisins and dates
  • Fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk
  • Fat-free yogurt
  • Halibut
  • Tuna
  • Molasses

Is it possible to have too much potassium?

Too much potassium can be harmful in older people and those with kidney disorders, since potassium affects the balance of fluids in the body. As you get older, your kidneys become less able to remove potassium from our blood. So, before taking any over-the-counter potassium supplement, talk to your healthcare provider.

What are other ways I can get more potassium?

Certain salt substitutes have a lot of potassium and very little sodium. They are not expensive and can be used freely unless you have certain medical conditions (such as kidney disease) or take certain medications. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether a particular salt substitute is right for you.

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