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 should get 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 part of an overall heart-healthy eating pattern. Other dietary factors that may affect blood pressure include amount and type of fats, cholesterol, protein, fiber, calcium, 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 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 included less sodium, added sugars, saturated fats and trans fats as well as fewer sweets, sugary beverages and red meats than the typical American diet.

What foods have potassium?

Many foods in the DASH diet 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:

  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Fat-free, no-sugar-added yogurt
  • Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (Talk to your health care professional if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering drug).
  • Greens
  • Halibut
  • Lima beans
  • Molasses
  • Mushrooms
  • Oranges and 100% orange juice
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Prunes and 100% prune juice
  • Raisins and dates
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes, 100% tomato juice and tomato sauce
  • Tuna

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 your blood. Before taking any over-the-counter potassium supplement, talk to your health care professional.

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 health care professional about whether a particular salt substitute is right for you.


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