6 Reasons You Need More Potassium & 12 Potassium Rich Foods

Susan Patterson
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6 Reasons You Need More Potassium & 12 Potassium Rich Foods

Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in the body. It’s vital to the healthy functioning of all of the body’s cells, tissues and organs. It also helps to control the amount of water in the body and helps the blood maintain a healthy pH level, which is why it’s so important when you lose electrolytes in your sweat, to obtain a source of this important mineral, and others, like chloride, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sodium, during or after a bout of intense physical activity.

Potassium is important for many other body functions as well, particularly for its ability to help the skeletal and smooth muscles contract, as well as for maintaining a regular heart rhythm.

Despite its importance, potassium is something that’s lacking in many of our diets. In fact, the National Academies’ Food and Nutrition recommends an adequate intake of 4.7 grams of potassium each day, but in North America, studies have found that the average adult male consumes just 2.8 to 3.3 grams, while the average adult female has an intake of only 2.2 to 2.4 grams each day.

Symptoms of low potassium can include severe headaches, weakness, leg cramps, dehydration, heart palpitations, nausea, palpitations, dizziness due to low blood pressure, and swelling of glands and tissues.

This essential mineral offers numerous benefits to our health, and can severely affect it when we don’t get enough, which is why we need to consume plenty of potassium-rich foods.

6 Reasons We Need Potassium:

1. It’s important for proper brain functioning.

As potassium has a key role in brain functioning, allowing more oxygen to reach the brain, therefore stimulating neural activity and increasing cognitive function, a lack of it can lead to serious health issues, including high blood pressure and even stroke. In fact, a number of studies have shown that potassium is vital for controlling blood pressure and decreasing the risk of a stroke. Research in 2014 published in the American Journal of Hypertension demonstrated that adults who had low levels of potassium are at an increased risk of stroke. Reducing your stroke risk is important as strokes have a high mortality rate and can also result in long-term mental and/or physical disability.

Potassium also affects higher brain functions like learning and memory. Some serious conditions like epilepsy have even been associated with potassium deficiency.

2. Prevent muscle cramps.

Muscle cramps are a common result of a lack of potassium in the blood – it’s a condition called hypokalemia. By consuming one of the potassium-rich foods we mention below, you can help prevent those annoying and sometimes painful muscle cramps.

3. Regulating stress hormones.

Potassium is especially important for those who are facing undue stress and high levels of anxiety as it helps to relieve stress as well as regulates stress hormones in the body like cortisol. When excess amounts of cortisol are released, it can lead to weight gain, mood swings, increased anxiety, sleeping difficulties, fatigue, acne, muscle aches and more.

4. Supporting cardiovascular health.

Ensure that you get an adequate amount of potassium in your diet can help lower your risk for stroke, as mentioned earlier, as well as cardiovascular disease, according to 2011 analysis published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology. The expert’s analysis included 11 different studies on potassium and cardiovascular health. The results revealed an increase of 1.6 grams of dietary potassium each day corresponded with a 21 percent decrease in risk of stroke. Additionally, there was a trend between higher potassium intake and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Some experts believe potassium protects the heart because of its ability to lower blood pressure, which was discussed previously, however, the results of this research indicated that potassium can reduce the risk for stroke and heart disease independently of blood pressure levels.

5. Maintaining proper fluid balance.

Ensuring that you get enough potassium each day will help keep your internal fluids properly balanced, although eating a variety of whole foods is important too, as you need all of the essential minerals to maintain a balance of electrolytes in your bloodstream. Drinking plenty of water is also a vital part of this process, generally considered to be at least eight 8-ounces glasses of water a day, while limiting the amount of sodium you consume at the same time, particularly by avoiding packaged, processed and fast foods which typically contain a ton of salt.

6. A healthy metabolism.

Potassium is a big help when you’re struggling with a sluggish metabolism and trying to lose weight. In fact, if you’ve ever found yourself thinking that you’d never lose weight no matter how hard you tried, it could be due to low potassium levels that caused your metabolism to slow to a crawl. Potassium helps the body break down and metabolize foods by helping other minerals to do their job – getting enough potassium, therefore, allows those minerals to do what they’re meant to do. For example, when a job is taken on by a team, every member of that team has to show up and do their particular task, when one component (or team member) is missing, things break down and don’t work like they should. Think of potassium as that vital team member that must be there to ensure your metabolism is functioning properly, which will help you burn more calories, and encourage that needle on the scale to go in the right direction.

12 Foods That Contain The Most Potassium:

1. Spinach

There’s a reason Popeye ate so much spinach. It’s become synonymous with strength, thanks to the classic cartoon, and it deserves that reputation because it’s loaded with vitamins and minerals, including potassium. In fact, one cup of raw spinach contains 1,268 milligrams (1.268 grams). Not only is spinach rich in potassium, it’s an excellent source of vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, folate, manganese, iron, zinc, and copper. It also contains plant contains plant chloroplast glycoglycerolipids, which researchers have found may act as cancer-fighting agents.

2. Avocado

An avocado contains more than twice the amount of potassium a banana does, with 1,067 milligrams (1.067 grams). Research published in 2013 in the Nutrition Journal which included nearly 18,000 men and women who were examined between 2001 and 2008 found that avocado consumers had significantly lower body weight, BMI and waist circumference and better cholesterol levels, as compared to those who did not consume avocados regularly.

3. Sweet Potatoes

A large, baked sweet potato contains 855 milligrams or 24 percent of the daily recommended value of potassium. They’re much more nutrient dense than white potatoes, in addition to potassium, they’re filled with vitamin C, vitamin B6 and contain a high amount of beta-carotene. They’re also believed to help treat peptic ulcers as scientific research has found them to exhibit anti-ulcer activity.

There is some good news when it comes to white potatoes if that’s your thing. While sweet potatoes do offer more nutrients in general, a single, medium baked potato with skin contains 950 milligrams of potassium, which is slightly more than its sweet counterpart.

4. Wild-caught salmon

Wild-caught salmon is jam-packed with important nutrients, including protein, vitamins and a host of minerals, including potassium, with 722 milligrams in a half fillet. Salmon is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for weight loss as they help you feel fuller while keeping the metabolism going at its max, as well as for lowering high blood pressure, relieving skin conditions like eczema, soothing joint pain and reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease.

5. Watermelon

If watermelon is one of your summer favorites, you’ll be happy to know that this juicy fruit will help you get your potassium too. Just two wedges contain 641 milligrams. Plus watermelons are an outstanding source of lycopene, which helps keep your heart young and healthy, and prevents damage caused by free radicals. It’s also been shown to promote healthy bones as it reduces the activity of the bones cells implicated in the development of the devastating bone disease known as osteoporosis, and has even been linked to a lower risk of certain cancers.

Scientific studies have demonstrated that lycopene helps prevent prostate, lung, and stomach cancers, and there has been some evidence found that shows it may protect against cervix, breast, pancreas, colon rectum and esophagus cancer too.

6. Dried apricots

Dried apricots are great to take along on a hike as part of a healthy trail mix, and they offer an easy way to get more potassium in your diet too, as a half-cup contains 756 milligrams. While dried fruit is high in natural sugars, provided it’s eaten in moderation, it’s still a considered a very healthy, potassium-rich snack. Apricots are actually most beneficial to your health when served dry, or dehydrated, which causes nutrient levels to become more concentrated. If you don’t care for apricots, raisins, dried peaches and figs, are also high in potassium.

7. Tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes contain a lot more potassium than canned, whether it’s in the form or tomato sauce or paste. They offer 1,800 milligrams of potassium per cup, and they’re also high in vitamin C and fiber while providing some protein too. Tomatoes are also well known for containing lycopene, that important antioxidant mentioned earlier in watermelons that is good for your heart and bones while lowering your risk of some cancers.

8. Kidney beans

Sneak kidney beans into your salads more often as it can be an easy way to get more potassium – they contain over 600 milligrams per cup.  They offer virtually fat-free high-quality protein, and they’re a great source of fiber, folate, copper manganese and phosphorous too. What makes them especially stand out, however, is that they’re an excellent source of the trace mineral, molybdenum, a key component of the enzyme sulfite oxidase, which is responsible for detoxifying sulfites.

9. Coconut water

If you want to fuel up with a drink that offers potassium, choose coconut water. Just eight ounces provides 600 milligrams of potassium, plus there are no added sugars to worry about to counteract the benefits.

10. Acorn squash

Acorn squash may not be all that common, but this is a great one to choose in the fall – it’s wonderful roasted, just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, slice it and roast it with a bit of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. It’s incredibly tender, sweet and contains nearly 900 milligrams of potassium in just one cup. Plus, you’ll be getting important antioxidants too, including carotenoids which are known for fighting a number of different cancers, including breast, prostate, lung and skin cancer.

11. Beets

One cup of cooked, sliced beets provides 518 milligrams of potassium – and a whole lot more. They’re an excellent source of folate, and a good source of copper, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B6. Beets are a unique source of phytonutrients known as betalains as well. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two most thoroughly studied betalains from beets, and both have been found to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. The detox support provided by betalains includes support of some especially important Phase 2 detox steps involving glutathione. Although you can see these betalain pigments in other foods (like the stems of chard or rhubarb), the concentration of betalains in the peel and flesh of beets gives you an unexpectedly great opportunity for these health benefits.

12. Bananas

Nearly everyone associates bananas with potassium, and while they don’t contain as much as the above-mentioned fruits and veggies, they are still a good source with more than 400 milligrams in each one. Plus they make a great high-energy, healthy, easy to take on the go snack. In addition to potassium, bananas offer lots of fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin B6.

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