Keep calm and potassium on. That’s how the phrase goes, doesn’t it? Well maybe it should. Turns out, “foods high in potassium can keep your heart beating normally and nerves and muscles functioning properly,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN. But if your potassium levels are low— according to the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention of the CDC, up to 98% of Americans do not get the recommended 4700mgs of potassium per day— you may feel weak, tired and have muscle cramps. Not cool. Newgent explained the benefits of potassium, as well as how you can increase your intake with some high potassium foods.
Benefits of Potassium
“Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in the body,” says Newgent. In addition to the positive impact potassium can have on the nervous system, potassium levels could affect us mentally as well. “Low potassium could contribute to brain fog and mood changes,” says Newgent, “so eating foods high in potassium may help regulate those mental shifts in some."
One major benefit of potassium is that it helps to offset some of the damage a high-sodium diet may do to the body. Sodium can creep into processed, restaurant and takeout foods and cause side effects like high blood pressure. According to the CDC, 90% of Americans consume too much salt in their diet, so having adequate potassium is key to helping the body find balance.
Regulating Potassium Levels and the Kidney
The kidney is the star of the show when it comes to potassium levels. It helps to regulate them and gets rid of excess potassium through our urine, according to Newgent. “Healthy people typically don’t need to worry about eating too much potassium,” she says. “While some processed foods may use potassium as a salt substitute or a preservative, healthy kidneys can handle this. However, concern can arise if you’re taking a significant amount of potassium in a supplemental form.
Generally, people who are at risk of overdoing potassium consumption are those with kidney or heart problems—or those who take medications that might interfere with their ability to get extra potassium out of the body. So if you do have heart problems or kidney problems or are on medications, talk to your doctor before increasing your potassium intake dramatically, and it may be necessary to avoid foods that are high in potassium.
Foods High in Potassium
Most people (98%!) do need to increase their potassium intake, and often the best option is through diet. Some foods that are highest in potassium may surprise you. Bananas are notoriously a good source, but lots of foods have even more potassium than bananas. “If you base the potassium comparison on an equivalent 100 grams (or 3½ ounces) of a food, bananas (358mg of potassium) are bested by a surprising array of foods,” Newgent explained, “including cooked pinto beans (394mg), cooked wild Atlantic salmon (449mg), and avocado (485mg).”
Potatoes have 425mg of potassium per 100g. To keep potatoes as healthy as possible, try them mashed or baked. We like to mix our mashed potatoes with cauliflower for added nutrients and less carbs like in our Tomato-Glazed Turkey Meatloaf: the 50/50 blend of potatoes and cauliflower reduces carbs by 20%.
Bananas can be a calming fruit, because of their B vitamins, plus bananas are great food source of potassium with 358mg per 100g serving. For a potassium-packed smoothie, combine bananas, spinach and coconut milk in your blender.
Often fresh fruits are the way to go, but with certain potassium-rich fruits like apricots, peaches and prunes, eating dried will help you get a more concentrated dose of potassium, according to Newgent. For example, 100g worth of fresh peaches has 190mg potassium while a 100g serving of dried peaches has 996mg potassium.” However, be careful not to overdose on dried fruits, the nutrients are packed in but so is the sugar, and it’s easy to overdo it. Look for dried fruits with simple ingredients, no added preservatives or colors.
Juiced or fresh, oranges pack a lot of potassium with 181mg in a 100g serving of raw oranges. We prefer to eat oranges whole, so that you don’t lose the fiber content which can help balance out the sugars of the sweet juice.
We can’t say enough about the nutrients in leafy greens, they are truly a powerhouse for all kinds of vitamins and minerals, including potassium. Newgent recommends beet greens, which pack in 762mg in a 100g serving and are a delicious way to add a bitter crunch to a stirfry or casserole.
White or navy beans deliver 325mg of potassium per serving, while adzuki beans (red beans popular in many asian dishes) have a whopping 1254mg of potassium per serving. Beans are fantastic ways to make soups more nutritious and filling, and can replace meat in tacos or stews.
Like dried fruits, tomato products like tomato paste (393mg/100g) or tomato puree (325mg/100g) can deliver more concentrated amounts of potassium than raw tomatoes. That’s good news for pasta dishes like our Cauliflower Bolognese or Sausage Baked Penne.
Creamy, delicious and nutritious, with 423mg of potassium per 100g serving, avocados are not just for millennials. In tacos, on toast, mixed into sauces or even in a smoothie for added creaminess, you’ll up your healthy fats and potassium intake if you add avocado. Just remember to control your portion.
Sweet potatoes have more potassium than other varieties of potatoes like Idaho, which contain 1357mg per 100g serving. A great way to incorporate sweet potatoes unexpectedly is breakfast, slice the potato into ½ inch slices, roast it in the oven and then top with hummus, bananas and peanut butter, avocado and pumpkin seeds.
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