Open Your Heart to the Power of Potassium

Kris Sollid, RD and Catherine Metzgar, Dietetic Intern, Penn State University

Quick, what's the first food that comes to mind when you hear the word potassium? Like me, you probably thought of bananas, right?

While bananas are a good source of potassium (one medium banana provides about 400 mg of potassium), there are foods that contain more. You may be surprised to learn that one small baked potato (sweet or white with skin), one cup of prune, carrot, tomato, or orange juice, and eight ounces of plain yogurt (nonfat or low-fat) each contain more potassium than a banana! Read on to find out why potassium is so essential for health.

Potassium's Part in Heart Health

Potassium keeps our body's cells functioning properly and plays a major role in protecting the cardiovascular system eating enough potassium-rich foods counterbalances the adverse effects of sodium intake on blood pressure. However, potassium on its own (whether as a food or supplement) has also been noted to reduce blood pressure. Specifically, potassium's blood pressure lowering effect is greatest in those that need it most: those with hypertension, those who are salt-sensitive, African American males (who are also more likely to have hypertension and to be salt-sensitive), and those who consume the most sodium. Emerging research also suggests potassium may improve more than just blood pressure it affects heart function which can lead to improvements in many cardiovascular risk factors.

How Much Do I Need?

According the Institute of Medicine, 4,700 mg per day is needed for adults to maintain lower blood pressure, reduce sodium's impact on blood pressure, reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones, and potentially decrease bone loss. However, less than 2% of the adult US population meets this requirement. In fact, due to such low intake levels, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has listed potassium as a "nutrient of concern." Clearly, most of us could use a little more potassium in our lives!

DASH does it!

Increase your potassium intake by incorporating more potassium-rich foods into your diet.

One successful way to do this is by following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. DASH is packed with foods that are naturally high in potassium and underscores the importance of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, and beans.

DASH is also proven to lower blood pressure. According to the Seventh Report of the Joint National committee on Prevention, Detection Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7), adopting the DASH eating plan is one of the five most effective lifestyle modifications people can make in managing hypertension. Following a DASH-style eating plan can also help Americans apply Dietary Guidelines recommendations to their daily lives.

In more DASH-related news, a recent study in the June 2011 issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that adherence to a DASH-style diet may result in smaller body mass index gains in adolescent girls. The DASH diet was also recently ranked #1 overall by US News & World Report in their assessment of twenty popular diets when considering ease of following, nutrition, safety, and effectiveness for weight loss and against diabetes and heart disease.

Learn More

To learn more about the benefits of potassium and how to increase your intake, be sure to check out IFIC Foundation's newest potassium resource:

Potassium and Heart Health Fact Sheet. 

Also see two recent Food Insight newsletter articles

DASH to Your Health

This Month, Show Some Love for Your Heart