You’ve heard all about sodium. You may have heard that too much of it is bad for your blood pressure. You probably know you’re supposed to go easy on the salt shaker. Heck, you might even know that most of the sodium in your diet (70 percent!) actually comes from processed foods.
Yet sodium steals too much of the spotlight. There’s another nutrient at play that can counter-balance the potentially detrimental effects of sodium and help your health in the process: potassium.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the stuff in bananas. But potassium is found in so many more delicious foods. And its benefits go beyond being a good idea to take in after a half marathon.
Potassium Health Benefits
- As an electrolyte, potassium helps regulate fluid balance in your body.
- Potassium sends signals along your nerves to help power your heart and other muscles.
- Potassium can help keep your bones stronger as you get older, helping to prevent some age-related bone loss.
- Potassium helps control your blood pressure. It pairs with sodium to shuttle it out of your body. In fact, increasing your potassium intake (whether or not you restrict your sodium) has a positive effect on your blood pressure, both in people with healthy and high blood pressure.
Research shows that most people don’t eat nearly as much potassium as they should. The daily recommendation is 4,700 milligrams, yet most only take in about 2,800.
So where do you find this much-needed potassium? Starchy vegetables, fruits, and legumes (aka beans and peas) are some of the richest sources. Some dairy products are also good sources of potassium—more milk and yogurt, though, and less so cheese. Some surprising sources: baked potatoes, carrot juice (try it in a smoothie), beet greens, white beans, and tomato puree.
Incorporate more of these foods and cut back on how much processed foods you eat. Then reap the benefits.
By Chris Mohr, PhD, RD