Unlike sodium, which can increase blood pressure in some individuals, potassium helps to lower blood pressure and also plays a critical role in fluid balance. The potassium positively charged atom (K+) is also an electrolyte, and is critical for muscle contraction and function (especially in the heart), as well as nerve function.
Potassium and Sodium
It is interesting to note that today’s diet in the U.S. is quite different from the diet of primitive cultures around the world. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, “Among other differences, our current daily intake of salt is about three times higher than potassium when compared to primitive cultures, whereas primitive cultures’ intake of potassium was about seven times higher than salt.” [I]
According to an abstract from the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, striving to keep salt intake low and potassium intake high “could provide the observed protection against the cardiovascular diseases that have plagued humankind since we began eating a modern high-sodium, low-potassium diet”. [II]
Easing up on the salt and increasing your Potassium intake with be especially beneficial to those of you who struggle with high blood pressure.
Potassium deficiency can cause muscle weakness, confusion, constipation, and irritability. Normally our bodies can regulate this mineral quite well. When your blood potassium levels are elevated, your kidneys will excrete more potassium in the urine, and when it is low, the kidneys prevent its excretion. However, heavy use of diuretics (also known as “water pills”) can throw off this balance and result in excessive potassium loss in the urine and feces.
When your body excretes excessive amounts of fluids, it also loses electrolytes. Potassium deficiency is sometimes blamed for that calf or toe cramp that wakes you up in the middle of the night. Most people will tell you to eat a banana when this happens, even though there are foods that are much richer in Potassium. It is easy to meet your daily needs for this mineral if you reach for the All-Star foods: legumes, fish, nuts, and seeds.
Plant sources: legumes, nuts, sweet potatoes, and avocado
1 medium banana – 142 mg
1 cup white beans – 3626 mg
1 cup lima beans – 3069 mg
1 cup black beans – 2877 mg
1 cup dry roasted almonds – 1029 mg
1 cup pistachio nuts – 1282 mg
1 cup dehydrated apricots – 2202 mg
½ cup raisins – 680 mg
5 dried plums (prunes) – 348 mg
5 dates – 225 mg
1 avocado – 689 mg
1 cup beet greens – 1309 mg
1 cup cubed yam – 1224 mg
1 oz sun dried tomatoes – 960 mg
1 cup uncooked quinoa – 957 mg
Ditching the processed foods is a key step in maintaining mineral balance, including proper potassium levels. Trading out you regular table salt for multi mineral-rich versions such as pink himalayan or celtic sea salt is also a great way to keep your minerals in check. Read through the Sodium and Chloride page to learn more.
[I] Higdon, Jane. “Micronutrient Information Center: Potassium”. Linus Pauling Institute, 2001. Web. May. 2016. <http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/potassium>.
[II] Young D.B., Lin H., McCabe R.D. “Potassium’s cardiovascular protective mechanisms”. American Journal of Physiology, 1995; 268(4 Pt 2):R825-837. Web. May. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7733391>.