Potassium – How it Affects You

Bananas, rich in potassium, have long been a nutritional staple, particularly after athletic pursuits. Eating a banana after vigorous exercise helps replace valuable electrolytes lost through sweating. Recent studies reveal other advantages to meeting the recommended daily allowance of potassium, found in a variety of fresh foods.

Potassium is critical for maintaining the body’s fluid balance as well as electrical and cellular functions. It helps regulate blood pressure and is vital for the heart, kidneys, muscles, nerves and digestive system performance. Potassium lowers blood pressure by diminishing the adverse effects of too much sodium and helps reduce risk factors for developing kidney stones and bone loss.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a daily intake of potassium as 4,700 milligrams (mg), but says most Americans actually consume less than this amount. Daily potassium intake should be acquired through foods we eat rather than relying on supplements, which are not as effective. This should be relatively easy, as there are a wide variety of foods rich in potassium.

Following are some foods high in potassium: 3/4 cup orange juice (355 mg); 1 cup low-fat milk (348 mg); 3 ounces avocado (540 mg); baked potato with skin (844 mg); 1/2 cup raisins (553 mg); 1/4 cup cantaloupe (412 mg); 1 cup butternut squash (583 mg); baked sweet potato (694 mg); 3 ounces baked salmon (319 mg); 3 ounces lean beef (224 mg); 1 cup yogurt (531 mg); 1 medium banana (451 mg).

Potassium deficiency, hypokalemia, can occur in people taking diuretics for high blood pressure or heart failure, or in individuals with eating disorders. Laxatives, vomiting and diarrhea can cause loss of potassium. Steroid and some antibiotic use also reduces potassium in our system.

Too much potassium, hyperkalemia, is most commonly caused by reduced kidney function, particularly with people on dialysis. Certain medications, such as for high blood pressure, can interfere with the body’s ability to eliminate potassium.

Recent studies have documented the added benefits of potassium in our diet. Research published in the August 2011 Swedish medical journal Stroke concluded that an increased intake of potassium may reduce chances of having a stroke. Researchers prospectively analyzed 10 international studies that included more than 250,000 middle-age and older adults. Scientists found that risk for stroke decreased as an individual’s reported intake of potassium increased. For every 1,000 mg increase in daily potassium, the odds for having a stroke in the next five to 14 years decline by 11%.

Eating recommended amounts of potassium is an important component for good health. As the latest research indicates, potassium’s benefits are increasing. Because it is found in many foods, incorporating this important nutrient into our diets can be a delicious challenge that is easy to achieve and maintain.

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