Potassium is an electrolyte in the body (like sodium, magnesium and chloride) that helps regulate the body’s intra-cellular functions by conducting electricity. One of the main purposes of this electrolyte is to regular muscle contractions, and your heart is one of your body’s biggest muscles.
What are the benefits of potassium?
There are many, but for the sake of this article I’m focusing on its role in preventing cardivascular disease. I am sure you have heard often that too much sodium (salt) will contribute to high blood pressure. This is because sodium constricts the blood vessels of the heart which in turn elevates the total pressure of the blood against the heart walls. High blood pressure is dangerous because it is a stepping stone for heart disease, which includes heart attacks and strokes. Potassium performs the exact opposite – it is a “vasodilator”, which means it RELAXES the blood vessels of the heart. In theory, potassium can help to counteract some of the negative effects of too much sodium in the diet. While sodium elevates blood pressure, potassium lowers it.
How much Potassium is enough?
The FDA recommends a DV – Daily Value (for a 2,000 calorie diet) of 3,500mg daily. Most people are unaware of what foods contain potassium, other than bananas. Potassium isn’t publicized as much as other nutrients\minerals in spite of its essential nature (such as Calcium, for example) which is why I call it the underdog nutrient. Here is a helpful table highlighting some good sources of potassium:
As you can see, bananas are on the list but they are well surpassed by lima beans, raisins, and spinach. Go figure! 🙂 Hopefully this short article raised your awareness of the importance of potassium and how powerful it is in counteracting excess sodium in the diet. It is one of the simplest ways to combat heart disease. I do feel that if potassium got as much publicity as sodium, it might be easier for the average consumer to make the connection between the two. Oh well, I guess that’s the RD’s job 🙂