Importance of Potassium

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there has been a lot of information coming out recently about sodium and the fact that Americans tend to eat a lot more salt than we actually need. In fact, the recommendations for sodium are being lowered to less than 1,500mg per day. In all this talk of reducing sodium, however, there is one mineral that tends to get overlooked–potassium.

In my last blog post, I talked about the new Dietary Guidelines that will be finalized at the end of this year. As part of this process, nutritional and dietary trends of Americans in the past 5 years were evaluated. It was found that potassium is a mineral that is consistently under-consumed by Americans. Most of us do not meet the recommended 4,700mg per day. The main reason for this is simply inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables.
So, why do we need to meet the recommendations for potassium? Why is it important? Potassium has many functions. It’s essential for maintaining fluid balance as well as the acid-base balance in the body. It reduces risk for kidney stones and helps prevent bone loss. It is important for the heart, and helps prevent cardiac arrhythmia. Potassium has also been shown to help reduce blood pressure. In fact, consuming adequate amounts of potassium may be just as important in lowering blood pressure as decreasing sodium intake.
There are several different types of foods that contain potassium. In general, fruits and vegetables tend to be the best sources of potassium.
Here is a list of fruits/vegetables that are high in potassium:
(contains 200-300mg/serving–one serving = 1/2 cup or 1 medium piece of fruit)
  • Apricots
  • Kiwi
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Fresh beets, cooked
  • Fresh asparagus, cooked
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes, boiled or mashed
  • Pumpkin
Here is a list of fruits/vegetables that are very high in potassium:
(contains greater than 300mg/serving–one serving = 1/2 cup or 1 medium piece of fruit unless otherwise stated)
  • Artichokes (1/4 small)
  • Beet greens (1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 small avocado
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe and honeydew melons
  • Mangos
  • Papaya (1/2 medium)
  • Corn on the cob
  • Baked potatoes (1/2 medium)
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes, yams
  • Tomato sauce or juice
  • Winter squash
Other fruits and vegetables contain potassium as well, but in lesser amounts than listed above. In addition to this, there are other foods that are good sources of potassium, including: beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, fish, poultry, meat and dairy products.
So, what is the trick to meeting the daily recommendations for potassium? It’s fairly simple, actually. Eat balanced meals and snacks and include a variety of foods into your eating plan. Follow the plate method for meal planning. Make 1/2 of your plate fruits and vegetables, 1/4 of your plate whole grains and 1/4 of your plate lean proteins. This will help in meeting the recommended 7-11 servings of fruits/vegetables a day. This will also assist in incorporating lean proteins that are good sources of potassium like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy.
Potassium is an important mineral for many reasons, and by using balance, variety and plenty of fruits and vegetables in our eating, we can meet the recommended amount of potassium our bodies need for optimal health.
Rachel Cope MPH, RD, CD