We hear a lot about sodium. We get too much, we need to cut back, processed foods and restaurant foods are high in sodium. The Dietary
Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend that we “reduce sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg” for persons in specific population groups including everyone over the age of 51 years old.
Unfortunately more Americans who need to are not following these guidelines. Most of us consume 3200 – 4200 mg of sodium per day. One teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. But this post isn’t about the sodium, but the mineral that can help us balance the sodium in our body – when we get too much, and the mineral that many of us don’t get enough of: potassium.
Again the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 states “Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets. These foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products.” Potassium is specifically found mostly in fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
Why is it so important?
As already mentioned, potassium helps balance sodium in the body; sodium and potassium are partners in balancing the water in our body. Stating simply, sodium helps us retain fluids and can increase blood pressure, which we do not want. Potassium can increase sodium’s excretion from the body, reducing the fluid retention and blood pressure.
Potassium also has a role in nerve conduction and muscle control. Athletes lose potassium during exercise, so it is found in sports drinks along with sodium. Also, people will find out from their doctor that they are low in potassium when they experience chest pain and may come how with a “prescription” to consume more potassium. Then bananas are eaten more often.
Where is it?
So there it is: when someone mentions potassium – the first thing people think of is… bananas! But there are so many more foods that have potassium than bananas; milk and yogurt; apricots, melons, raisins and prunes; white and sweet potatoes; carrots, beans, spinach and tomatoes; and finally nuts! Eating a variety of fruits and veggies, nuts and low-fat or fat-free dairy products can give you all the potassium you need each day.
The recommendation for potassium is 4,700 mg daily (4.7 g) – but please makes sure you are getting it from your foods and not a potassium supplement unless prescribed to you.
So, your homework is to get more potassium (and still less sodium) – and get it with more than just bananas. Get a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, low-fat/fat-free dairy products and you are golden – at least in this area of your life.