Getting More Potassium: A Dietary Challenge

getting more potassium: a dietary challengeIf you are concerned about healthy eating, you might want to ask yourself if you are getting enough potassium! As both a dietitian counseling private patients and former college level nutrition instructor, I have observed the difficulty that people of all ages have in getting adequate dietary potassium. Given that the daily dietary recommendation for North Americans is about 3500 to 4700 mg, it’s not that surprising that people fall short of meeting their requirements.

Why it’s important

potassium rich foods Why is potassium so important for our health and well-being? First and foremost, it’s inside every cell. It’s a key factor in maintaining our fluid and electrolyte balance. And, it’s critical for maintaining a normal heartbeat. Sudden deaths that occur during fasting and the severe food restriction seen in anorexia are usually due to heart failure caused by inadequate intake. It’s also a key player in maintaining healthy nerve functioning and muscle contraction.

Even if the diet is very low in potassium, the body can usually handle maintaining blood potassium levels in order to maintain heart stability and nerve function. Although the body is able to maintain blood potassium levels despite eating less than the recommended amount, there are still health concerns tied to chronic low potassium diets. Low potassium diets are a trigger for hypertension. Research also suggests that diets low in potassium promote blood sugar problems, kidney stones, and increase calcium loss from bones. Calcium lost from bones can lead to osteoporosis.

Unprocessed foods are rich in potassium

Knowing how important this nutrient is to overall health, a healthy diet should be packed with potassium rich foods. Since potassium is found in all plant cells, just like it’s in our own cells, all plant foods that are unprocessed will yield plenty of this nutrient! Need “unprocessed food” defined before reading on? It’s a food that has not been altered in terms of chemical treatment in order to preserve it, improve the taste, or alter the appearance of the food.

Examples of unprocessed foods

Think of the potato as an unprocessed food, but potato chips are processed. Corn is an unprocessed food, but caramel corn is a processed food. If it looks like it did as grown in the ground, then it’s unprocessed! Unprocessed fruits and vegetables will have the potassium left intact, and upon eating that food, we are able to benefit nutritionally. That’s why many excellent sources of potassium in the following list are whole fruits and vegetables that have not lost their potassium content from any processing. Some animal protein and whole grains also provide this nutrient.

Stumbling blocks to getting enough potassium

Although many health care providers think it’s an easy process to eat this much potassium on a daily basis, Americans usually eat too few servings of unprocessed foods to get the job done. As unprocessed foods are the leading dietary source of potassium, therein lies the problem. Additionally, as chronic dieters edit out calories to lose weight, they may also be editing out potassium rich foods in the process. Popular diets such as the keto diet also put the dieter at risk for a low potassium intake. With that stated, consuming enough does not have to be as difficult as one would think. The key is knowing the best food sources, and making sure these foods are consumed on a regular basis.

Target unprocessed foods high in potassium

  • 1/2 cup baked beans have 285 mg
  • 1/2 cup lima beans have 476 mg
  • 1 cup cooked spinach has 466 mg
  • 1/2 cup soybeans have 476 mg
  • A large can low sodium V-8 juice has 1180 mg
  • 1 small can low sodium V-8 juice has 700 mg
  • 6 prunes have about 290 mg
  • 1/2 cup navy beans have 376 mg
  • 1 cup orange juice has about 500 mg
  • 11.2 fluid ounce box Naked brand coconut water, about 530 mg
  • 1 cup of skim milk has about 400 mg
  • 1 banana has 420 mg
  • 1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal has about 335 mg
  • 3 oz. salmon has about 380 mg
  • 3 oz. chicken or beef has about 290 mg
  • 1/2 cup cooked carrots has about 185 mg
  • 1 cup of honeydew melon has about 400 mg
  • 1 cup cantaloupe has about 417 mg
  • 1/3 avocado has about 360 mg
  • 6-oz. baked potato has about 850 mg
  • 1/2 cup sweet potato has about 400 mg
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries have about 250 mg
  • 1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice has about 200 mg

Other benefits

The beauty of this list? Adding more of the above foods will not only increase your potassium, but also add other valuable nutrients to your diet such as fiber, and vitamins A and C. Potassium rich fruits and vegetables are also the foods with high levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants. In one large study, women who ate over five servings of fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of aggressive tumors in comparison to those who ate only two servings.

How do you manage to get your fruits and veggies into your diet? Do you add any toppings to certain recipes or use in smoothies? I know making smoothies is my easy way of getting my own potassium requirements met! Please share your ideas.