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Potassium

The Major Mineral Associated with Bananas

October 14th 2010 - Source: Jill Nussinow, RD

Most people don’t understand minerals and what they do in the body. You honestly don’t need to know the whole story but here are some items of interest. The most important fact is that potassium and sodium, along with chloride, work together to balance your blood mineral levels. They are known as electrolytes.

If you eat a diet high in sodium, you likely need more potassium to keep your sodium in check. Think of the balance as a water ballet or synchronized swim. If one person gets off the rhythm, then the judges don’t like what they see. Your body is the judge, and it’s fairly forgiving, until things go wrong, and they can go very wrong, or just get a little unbalanced.

To prevent that from happening, here you can learn a bit about potassium’s role in a well-functioning body and where you can find potassium in the foods that you eat.

Your body contains more than twice as much potassium as sodium but because of the make-up of the American diet, sodium intake often far surpasses that of potassium. Upping your intake of potassium-containing foods is a good idea.

What Does Potassium Do?
Potassium’s main jobs are heartbeat regulation, blood pressure regulation and helping to generate muscle contractions and stimulate nerve function. It is also important in helping pump sodium out of cells so that they don’t swell, or burst. Don’t let this scare you – it happens over a long period of time.

The kidneys regulate body potassium, keeping blood levels on an even keel, despite wide swings in intake. Consuming alcohol, coffee and caffeine drinks, sugar and diuretic drugs, and smoking, causes potassium loss and may contribute to lowering blood potassium. It is also lost if you experience vomiting or diarrhea.

While your body can hold on to sodium, it cannot do the same for potassium so you need to replenish it daily, or many times each day. Most people need in the range of 2000 to 2500 mg of potassium each day, easily obtained from food. The ideal potassium to sodium ratio is about 2:1, which means that if you get 2000 milligrams (mg) of potassium, you want to consume about 1000 milligrams of sodium. The American diet generally has this reversed.

Where Can I Find Potassium?
Luckily, potassium is available in a wide range of foods. Many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium and low in sodium, which may help prevent hypertension (high blood pressure). Fresh vegetables are best, while frozen may also provide good potassium sources.

The following foods are very good sources of potassium:
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, parsley, and lettuce, as well as broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, and potatoes, especially the skins.
Fruits that contain this mineral include oranges and other citrus fruits, bananas, apples, avocados, apricots, especially the dried ones.

See the chart below for specific amounts of potassium.

Can You Have Too Much or Too Little?
People with chronic diseases or people over 65 (seniors) may experience hypokalemia, or potassium deficiency. This is often the result of diuretic or cortisone medications. Too little potassium is not good and may have serious side effects. The result of potassium deficiency may be overall weakness or fatigue, inability to concentrate, and problems with muscle coordination. It can also lead to blood pressure issues, stroke and heart irregularities. If you suspect you have potassium deficiency, see you doctor and discuss this.

If you have a medical condition that requires you to have potassium supplementation, this is something to monitor with your doctor.

Too much potassium can lead to hyperkalemia, or increased potassium levels in the blood. People with kidney problems or severe infection may suffer from increased potassium levels. If you are on a restricted diet, then monitoring potassium levels may be necessary.

Food is Often The Best Medicine
Remember: taking more minerals than you need won't necessarily make you healthier. Getting your minerals from food is the best practice. You can avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies by eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, protein sources, whole grains and dairy products, if you eat them, every day.

Vegetarian Potassium Sources: (in order from most to least)

Food

Amount

Potassium (milligrams)

Potato, baked with skin

1 medium

926

Pinto beans, cooked

1 cup

746

Lentils, cooked

1 cup

731

Prune Juice

1 cup

707

Salt substitute

¼ tsp

650

Yogurt, plain, nonfat

1 cup

625

Black beans, cooked

1 cup

611

Sweet Potato, baked w skin

1 medium

542

Tomato Juice

1 cup

535

Cantaloupe

1 cup, cubed

494

Winter Squash, cooked

1 cup

494

Lima beans

½ cup

478

Honeydew Melon

1 cup

461

Broccoli, cooked

1 cup

458

Avocado, medium

½

450

Mushrooms, white, cooked

1 cup

428

Banana

1 medium

422

Spinach, cooked

½ cup

419

Peach

1 medium

285

Mango

1 cup

257

Peanuts

¼ cup

257

Strawberries

1 cup

233

Orange

1 medium

232

Brown Rice, cooked

1 cup

84

You cannot tell the potassium content of a food by looking at it, or by guessing due to its taste, color or texture. The best potassium sources contain more than 400 milligrams of potassium per serving. Many other foods than those listed here contain potassium; this is a random sampling.


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