Posted on Sep 12, 2019, 10 p.m.
The importance of potassium can’t be understated, it helps to regulate the heartbeat, ensures proper functioning of muscles and nerves, is vital for synthesizing protein and metabolizing carbohydrates, and is necessary for the normal functioning of cells.
When humans roamed to find food by hunting and gathering potassium was abundant in the diet while sodium was low, this Paleolothic diet delivered 16 times more potassium than sodium. Jump forward to present day and most Americans barely get half of the recommended amounts of potassium in their diets, yet get twice as much sodium as potassium.
This change in balance is mainly due to the abundance of hidden salt in processed or prepared foods and the lack of potassium in these foods. The imbalance is at odds with how humans naturally evolved and is thought to be a significant contributor to high blood pressure which affects an estimated 1 in 3 American adults.
Diets that emphasize high potassium intake can help to keep blood pressure at healthy levels. The recommended amount for daily potassium intake is 4,700mg which can be obtained in bananas, apricots, prunes, oranges juice, squash, and potatoes. The DASH trial compared three diets: 1) the standard diet containing on average 3.5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which can provide about 1,700mg of potassium, 2) a fruit/vegetable rich diet including on average 8.5 daily servings providing 4,100 mg of potassium daily; and 3) a combination diet that included the same 8.5 servings of fruit/vegetables plus low fat dairy products, reduced sugar, and red meat.
In those with normal blood pressure the fruit and vegetable rich diet lowered blood pressure by 2.8 mm Hg systolic and 1.1 mm Hg diastolic than the standard diet; and the combination diet lowered blood pressure by 5.5 mm Hg systolic and 3.0 mm Hg diastolic than the standard diet. In those with high blood pressure the combination diet reduced blood pressure by as much as 11 mm Hg systolic and 5.5 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for strokes and other cardiovascular events. A study following 43,000 men for 8 years found that those who consumed the highest levels of dietary potassium at a median of 4,300 mg per day were 38% less likely to have a stroke than those who consumed a median intake of 2,400 mg per day. Another study following 85,000 women for 14 years found a modest association between potassium intake and the risk of stroke. Most research is in line with these findings, with the strongest evidence supporting benefit seen in those following high dietary potassium intake with high blood pressure and those prone to high blood pressure.
It is recommended not to take potassium supplements without consulting your doctor first as it may lead to high blood potassium levels that may be dangerous. Use caution with salt substitutes as they can have high potassium content. To increase potassium in your diet try to consume more fruits and vegetables which will in turn may lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.