Why You Need Plenty of Potassium
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When it comes to dietary strategies to control blood pressure, sodium gets all the attention. But too little potassium could be just as important as too much salt.
“When you get enough potassium, it helps your body excrete sodium,” says Angie Murad, R.D., a nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “That eases tension in the blood vessel walls, which can help lower blood pressure.”
The mineral also helps blood vessels relax independent of the role it plays in sodium balance.
How Much Potassium Do You Need?
The recommended daily dose of potassium is 4,700 mg. But according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, less than 2 percent of Americans consume that much. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee highlighted the lack of potassium in our diets by designating it a “shortfall nutrient.”
So should you take potassium supplements? Not unless your doctor tells you to. A very high intake of the mineral—which is easier to get with supplements than with food—may limit the kidney's ability to eliminate potassium, and that can lead to abnormal heart rhythms. The elderly as well as people with kidney disease or type 2 diabetes, and those who take certain medications (such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories) are most at risk. In addition, the type of potassium found in supplements is actually a different form than the kind that naturally occurs in food and may not provide the same benefits.
To help make consumers more aware of their potassium intake, the Food and Drug Administration will require potassium to be listed on Nutrition Facts labels once the new version of the label goes into effect. (The FDA recently extended the compliance date but has not set a new date.) Having at least eight servings of fruits and vegetables daily is ideal.
“But if you just focus on eating fruits and vegetables with every meal and snacks, you will easily get enough,” Murad says.
Below is a list of 22 foods that will help you boost your potassium intake. (For more potassium-rich foods, search the nutrients list at the USDA website.)
Where to Find Potassium
Swiss chard, 1 cup cooked: 961 mg
Acorn squash, 1 cup cubed: 896 mg
Spinach, 1 cup cooked: 839 mg
Baked potato, 1 small w/skin: 738 mg
Lentils, 1 cup cooked: 731 mg
Tempeh, 1 cup: 684 mg
Salmon, 5 ounces: 676 mg
White beans, ½ cup: 502 mg
Yogurt low-fat plain, 1 cup: 531 mg
Sun-dried tomatoes, ¼ cup: 463 mg
Cantaloupe, 1 cup cubed: 427 mg
Banana, 1 medium: 422 mg
Carrots, 1 cup cooked: 367 mg
Crushed canned tomato, ½ cup: 355 mg
Sweet potato, 1 medium w/o skin: 347 mg
Avocado, ½: 345 mg
Raisins, 1 small box (1.5 oz): 322 mg
Quinoa, 1 cup cooked: 318 mg
Pistachios, ¼ cup kernels: 310 mg
Prunes, 4 whole pitted: 278 mg
Oranges, 1 cup slices: 274 mg
Apricots, dried, 6 halves: 244 mg
Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the September 2017 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.