Are You Getting Enough Potassium?

August 7, 2014 Providence Health Team

Bananas, tomatoes, oranges, cantaloupe, peaches, spinach, Swiss chard, lima beans and potatoes—these are some of the world’s healthiest foods, in part because they are excellent sources of potassium.

What is potassium?

Potassium is categorized as an electrolyte. When dissolved in water, electrolytes conduct electricity needed for nerves and muscles to do their work.

Why do we need potassium?

The mineral helps muscles store carbohydrates for endurance activities and also helps regulate the body’s fluid balance and blood pressure. When you have insufficient potassium, your nerves and muscles fail to function properly. (Remember, your heart is the body’s most important muscle!)

Potassium deficiency

About one in every five Americans admitted to the hospital has a potassium deficiency. And most Americans do not consume as much potassium as they should. The Institute of Medicine recommends intake of 4.7 grams a day, but most American adults consume less than half that amount. One major benefit from consuming more potassium is to blunt the effect of too much sodium, another important electrolyte. Ideally, a person should consume more potassium than sodium. But Americans actually get about twice as much sodium, an imbalance that is believed to be a major factor in hypertension and other heart problems.

Potassium supplements

Be careful about trying to improve your potassium intake through potassium supplements without the advice of your doctor. Studies have failed to find the same benefit from potassium obtained from supplements. And too much potassium (or too little sodium) can be even more dangerous. Center your diet around fresh foods that you cook yourself, with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, and you’ll be getting all the potassium you need!

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