Potassium is a mineral found in almost every food group, but poor eating habits can leave you short. Although a deficiency is not directly linked to any disease, you want to get enough potassium for your body’s vital functions – particularly your heart.
Potassium regluates the body’s vital functions
This mineral helps balance many different body processes. Adequate levels of potassium decrease the amount of calcium excreted in urine. This makes kidney stones less likely to form. It also helps protect bones from osteoporosis. Potassium may also enhance the action of insulin in the body.
A boon for your blood pressure and stroke risk
Limiting your sodium consumption is a good way to lower your blood pressure. To help control blood pressure even more, the National High Blood Pressure Education Program strongly suggests getting enough potassium. In fact, the famous Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which is low in sodium and saturated fat and high in potassium and calcium, has proven successful at lowering blood pressure. To find out more about the DASH plan, visit the website of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (www.nhlbi.nih.gov).
Several large studies also link higher levels of potassium in the diet with a lower risk of stroke. Potassium’s impact on blood pressure could be the link. But potassium may also help prevent harmful changes in the walls of blood vessels going to or inside of the brain.
For all the benefits of potassium, there are a few precautions. As long as your kidneys work properly, any excess potassium is excreted in urine. But if the kidneys are compromised, high levels of potassium from supplements or excess use of salt substitutes can accumulate and cause abnormal heart rhythms. Certain medications also limit your body’s ability to eliminate excess potassium.
Reach your potassium potential
Average adult consumption of potassium is now between 2,100 and 3,200 mg a day. Many adults consume considerably less. Although some researchers suggest 2,500 to 3,500 mg as a good target for adults to aim for, the latest federal dietary recommendations encourage a daily potassium intake of 4,700 mg.
Food processing often reduces the amount of potassium people get. Refined white flour is lower in potassium than whole-wheat flour. Vegetables boiled in large amounts of water lose potassium during cooking. Commercial snacks and baked goods high in fat and sugar, which play a large role in some people’s diets, are generally very low in potassium.
To get more potassium, concentrate on eating more vegetables and fruits. The forms of potassium found in these plant foods are preferable to the forms of potassium found in grains, meats, dairy foods and supplements. By striving each day to eat the eight or more servings of vegetables and fruits recommended by the DASH diet to reduce blood pressure, you can build your potassium intake, as well as reduce your cancer risk.