Potassium is a mineral that is required by all of the body's tissues. Because it carries a modest electrical charge that stimulates numerous cell and neurone activities, it is sometimes referred to as an electrolyte.
Potassium, an essential mineral “salt” sometimes referred to as the “good salt,” is making headlines for its role in your blood pressure health. I do suggest you make sure you’re getting plenty of this beneficial mineral in your diet, we all love salt but we need to love potassium even more if we want to maintain a good fluid balance in our bodies. It’s long been known that people with higher intakes of potassium tend to have lower blood pressure levels, but a new study revealed just how great the benefit may be.
Researchers determined that increasing average potassium intake to the recommended 4.7 grams a day would reduce systolic blood pressure by between 1.7 and 3.2 mm Hg on a population-wide scale. This decrease, they suggest, is similar to the reduction that would occur if Westerners lowered their salt intake by 4 grams a day.
Many now believe that sugar is in fact a far greater contributor to high blood pressure than salt, but it’s clear that processed foods are far too high in refined sodium. Food researchers have suggested a novel solution — using mineral salts in processed foods, which would replace some of the sodium with healthful potassium.
A proper balance of potassium both inside and outside your cells is crucial for your body to function properly. As an electrolyte, potassium is a positive charged ion that must maintain a certain concentration (about 30 times higher inside than outside your cells) in order to carry out its functions, which includes interacting with sodium to help control nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction and heart function.
There is so much research showing a link between low levels of potassium and high blood pressure that researchers now believe increasing your levels should receive just as much attention as a low-salt diet in blood pressure management.
Potassium is widely available in fruits and vegetables, but if you eat a highly processed diet, there’s a chance you’re not getting enough. Further, it’s generally recommended that you take in five times more potassium than sodium, but because many New Zealander’s diets are so rich in high-sodium processed foods, most people get two times more sodium than potassium. Snack and “quick” foods like meat pies are high in sugar, salt and fat – and almost devoid of potassium.
So if you have high blood pressure, it could be a sign that you’re lacking in this vital mineral. Likewise, if you’ve had excessive fluid loss, such as vomiting, diarrhoea or sweating, it can also take a toll on your potassium levels, as can some medications, including certain diuretics, laxatives, chemotherapy drugs, and steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Prednisone.
Signs of severe potassium deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, abdominal pain and cramps, and in severe cases abnormal heart rhythms and muscular paralysis.
Just what exactly are the foods with the highest sources of potassium? Many people immediately think of bananas when it comes to potassium, but I don’t recommend our patients eat bananas to make sure you’re getting enough potassium. But why you ask, aren’t bananas full of potassium and healthy? They are, but they are either a very sugary or very starchy fruit and can wreak havoc with many people’s bowel, digestive systems as well as immune system. Bananas are classified as a herb and do not grow in New Zealand, they are imported from other more tropical countries. Customs first require that they are “cleaned” (i.e – sprayed) to remove any foreign bugs. They are also gassed with ethylene gas to ripen them. Because they are “flatulence” material in your diet and high in sugar, I recommend you do not eat many of them at all. Save them for the kids – and only let them have 1 a day – unless they are allergic then avoid them in your child’s diet altogether. I’ve seen them aggravate eczema, constipation, diarrhoea and many other health problems in both young and old.
Whilst bananas do contain potassium, so do the vast majority of other fruits and veggies. Potassium is the predominant nutrient among most all fruits and vegetables, and there are some excellent, very healthful choices out there. Look at kumara (sweet potato) – one of the higher dietary sources of potassium in NZ. Sweet potato and squash are both good choices, but still should be consumed only in moderation by some people due to their high carb content.
The avocado, for instance, has more than twice as much potassium as a banana and is rich in beneficial monounsaturated fat. The avocado, Swiss chard (silverbeet) and kumara (sweet potato) are all great options to include in your diet as far a potassium is concerned.
I do NOT recommend eating dried apricots, figs, dates, raisins nor baked potatoes for their potassium. All of these foods are high in sugar (white potatoes are a vegetable, but they digest like a high sugar carb) and will raise insulin levels beyond what is ideal for most people — especially if you are struggling with high blood pressure and weight issues. Stick with sweet potato, but not in excess! The Maori population thrived on a diet rich in seafood, sweet potatoes and greens such as watercress and their health used to be outstanding – before white man came to this country and gave them Coca cola, deep fried fish and chips and cigarettes.
If you are struggling with high blood pressure, optimising your potassium intake is highly recommended. The current recommended level for adults is 4,700 mg a day. You can also find more tips for lowering your blood pressure naturally by using the search feature on this site.
|Wheat Germ 827
|Sardines (canned) 397
|Brewer’s Yeast 1,700
|Grapes (green) 192
|Figs (dried) 678
|Pistachio Nuts 1,093
|Sesame Seeds 412
|Brazil Nuts 600
|Mung Beans 1,246
|Macadamia Nut 368
|Sunflower Seeds 689
|Sweet Potato 480
|Tomato Paste 1,014
|Cashew Nuts 565