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Increasing Potassium to Improve Blood Pressure Control

By Carol Witte, RDN, Senior Services Nutrition Program Director

Usually the first thing you hear about to control your blood pressure is to limit the sodium in your diet, which is usually correct. Avoiding high sodium foods has been proven to improve blood pressure and decrease one of your risks for heart disease.  The 2010 USDA dietary guidelines came out recommending that Americans work to decrease sodium and salt in their diets. Since then more food companies are trying to reduce the sodium content in many foods and I believe this is a great benefit to all. Most Americans consume too much salt or sodium in their diet due to hidden salt, processed foods and meals on the run. All that your body needs is approximately 1,500- 2,000 milligrams per day of sodium per day. So continue to read your labels and look for ways to decrease sodium.

On the other hand, Americans come up short on potassium in the diet, so that is what I would like to discuss today! A severe potassium deficiency is rare in healthy individuals but can result in serious consequences such as cardiac arrhythmias, muscle weakness and glucose intolerance. However, research shows that a great number of Americans live day-to-day with a more moderate potassium deficit, which poses longer term health threats, especially related to blood pressure control. Before going any further I also need to mention that for those individuals who may have kidney failure or decreased kidney function, please check with your Nephrologist, your dietitian, or your physician before you start increasing your food items which are high in potassium!  Too much potassium for those individuals is very serious and if too high can cause the heart to stop!

What is Potassium?
Potassium is a mineral that helps your muscles contract and regulates fluids and mineral balance in and out of the body cells. It helps maintain a normal blood pressure by decreasing the effects of sodium. Potassium has also been found to reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones and possibly bone loss as we get older. Guidelines issued by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science encourage adults to consume at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day. That’s almost double what most of us actually eat.

What are Good Sources of Potassium?
Potassium is found in a wide range of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Some are higher in potassium than others like leafy greens, tomatoes, eggplant, winter squash, pumpkin, potatoes (white and sweet), cantaloupe, honey dew melon, bananas and oranges. Potassium is also found in other food groups like dairy foods, beans, meat, poultry, fish and nuts.

Reach your recommended daily intake of potassium by frequently adding these foods to your daily menu:

  • 1 cup of cooked spinach = 840 milligrams
  • A medium baked potato = 800 mg
  • 1 cup of cooked broccoli = 460 mg
  • 1 cup of cantaloupe = 430 mg
  • A medium tomato = 290 mg
  • ½ cup of strawberries = 230 mg
  • A medium-size banana = 450 mg
  • 8 ounces of yogurt = 490 mg
  • 8 ounces of low-fat milk = 366 mg

A well balanced healthy diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables at each meal will help you meet your potassium needs each day!