A vital electrolyte, potassium helps balance sodium and regulate fluid balance in your body.
Outside of chemists, athletes, and anyone with high blood pressure, most people don’t give a lot of thought to potassium, a mineral you probably last heard of when learning the periodic table in chemistry class (where its abbreviation is the letter K). But potassium plays a vital role in health: It helps regulate your body’s fluid levels, aids in muscle function, and keeps your nervous system functioning properly, among other functions, according to MedlinePlus.
It also plays a key role in cardiovascular health. “Potassium is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and keeping your heart beating regularly,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a New York Times bestselling author and nutrition expert in Brooklyn, New York. Research shows that potassium reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension and may lower the risk for stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It is also one of a group of electrically charged minerals —?magnesium, calcium, and sodium are others — known as electrolytes. You often hear about electrolytes in sports drinks because they aid with fluid balance and we tend to lose them when we sweat, according to MedlinePlus. Potassium and sodium are the main electrolytes involved in regulating fluid balance, and keeping them in balance can be crucial for reducing the risk of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke, according to the CDC. Most Americans, however, consume too much sodium and not enough potassium. In fact, the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans raised the recommended daily intake for potassium to 4,700 milligrams (mg) a day.
For that reason, Largeman-Roth says, “Focusing on adding potassium-rich foods to our diets is smart for overall health.” If your potassium levels are too low, a condition known as hypokalemia, it can result in fatigue, muscle weakness or cramping, and cardiovascular issues such as an abnormal heart rhythm, according to MedlinePlus.
It’s also possible to get too much potassium, which can lead to a condition called hyperkalemia. This is something you need to be especially aware of if you have kidney problems, according to the National Kidney Foundation. The kidneys help regulate the amount of potassium in your body, but if they’re not functioning properly, too much potassium can get into the bloodstream, causing weakness or numbness, and potentially, arrhythmia and heart attack. Research has found that a variety of medications, such as ACE inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and certain diuretics, can also raise potassium levels too high.
Meeting the recommended daily intake of potassium means reevaluating your diet. “Potassium comes from various foods we eat, especially fruits and vegetables,” says Nicole Roach, RD, a registered dietitian with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. And yes, that includes bananas, which have 422 mg per medium-sized fruit, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. To be considered to be high in potassium, however, a food needs 20 percent or more of the daily recommended value, or 940 mg per serving. We rounded up 10 other colorful, tasty, and potassium-rich foods to add to your diet, and provided serving suggestions that will keep you coming back for more.
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There are so many varieties of squash, you can find some kind in season no matter what time of year it is. This round, green-skinned, orange-fleshed winter variety is loaded with fiber and other vitamins and minerals — especially potassium. One cup of cooked acorn squash packs 896 mg, per the USDA.
It has a slightly sweet flavor that is heightened by roasting. “Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, slice it into rings, and roast it with a little salt, pepper, and brown sugar,” Largeman-Roth says. “It gets so tender and sweet. Kids will love it — and they can eat it like a slice of watermelon!” Largeman-Roth is also not opposed to drizzling it with some olive oil, which increases the absorption of fat-soluble beta carotene. This compound, which is found in other orange-hued produce such as carrots and pumpkins, is a plant pigment with antioxidant properties, according to a review published in April 2017 in the American Journal of Cancer Research.
Fresh tomatoes contain a decent amount of potassium (one medium tomato has 292 mg, per USDA data), and you’ll get even more bang for your buck from more concentrated forms of tomatoes, such as tomato paste (162 mg per tablespoon) or tomato sauce (728 mg per cup). But sun-dried tomatoes win out with 925 mg of potassium per half-cup, which is 35 percent of the recommended amount for adult women, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s not all they have going for them, either: Sun-dried tomatoes are high in fiber, with more than 6 grams per cup, vitamin C, and even?protein. You can find them plain or packed in heart-healthy olive oil, and either make a delicious addition to salads, sandwiches, or pizza. You can also chop them up and add to pesto or sauces.
Beans are an all-around healthy addition to your diet, as a good source of plant-based protein and filling fiber. One cup of this kidney-shaped variety delivers 713 mg of potassium, per USDA data. You can buy them dried or canned, but if you choose the latter, be sure to drain and rinse them before using — an experiment by the Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen found that doing so can lower the sodium content by roughly 100 mg per half-cup serving, or up to 26 percent. Black beans are another good choice, with 489 mg per half-cup, per the USDA.
Kidney and other kinds of beans are great in soup and chili, and Largeman-Roth recommends adding kidney beans to your salads or mashing them up with salt and pepper to use as a burrito filling.
Bananas tend to get all the credit when it comes to potassium-rich fruits, but a single small kiwifruit has nearly as much potassium, at 215 milligrams, as an entire banana.
Other fruit that should be on your shopping list: Oranges, including their juice — an 8-oz glass racks up nearly 500 milligrams of potassium, per the USDA — and cantaloupe. Just 1 cup of this orange melon edges out a medium banana with 427 milligrams, per USDA data. Its high water content also means cantaloupe is super hydrating and its orange color indicates the presence of beta carotene, a plant pigment with antioxidant properties. Fruit salad, anyone?
Get on the avocado toast train. This creamy, green-fleshed fruit isn’t just high in fiber and heart-healthy fats, it’s also loaded with 690 mg of potassium, per the USDA. That makes it twice as good for your heart. Incorporating healthier monounsaturated fats into your diet via avocados may benefit your heart by raising “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, according to a review published April 2018 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, notes the CDC.
Avocado is so versatile, you can incorporate it into any meal of the day. In addition to mashing it for toast and guac, you can add slices to tacos, sandwiches (use it in place of butter or mayo, suggests Roach), burgers, and even smoothies. Largeman-Roth recommends using one of her favorite avocado recipes from her cookbook, Eating in Color. “Blend ? avocado with ? banana, ? cup low-fat vanilla yogurt, ? cup ice, 1 cup coconut water, 1 teaspoon of agave nectar, and ? teaspoon ground cinnamon,” she says. (Vegans can substitute silken tofu for yogurt.)
There are plenty of reasons to eat more of this lean protein, and here’s one more to add to the list: Many species are a great source of potassium. Certain fish — like wild salmon, some varieties of tuna, halibut, trout, flounder, and Pacific cod — are better sources than others; a 3-oz piece of wild Atlantic salmon contains around 400 mg of potassium, per the USDA. Fatty fish like salmon are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are a type of polyunsaturated fat that may lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the body, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises?eating at least 8 oz of fish a week, primarily varieties that are low in mercury. If you’re not a seafood lover, red meat (including lean beef), chicken, and turkey also provide good amounts of potassium.
Nutritionally, potatoes get a bad rap, but that’s usually because of how they’re prepared (fried in oil as french fries or chips, or smothered in cheese, sour cream, and butter). But your basic spud is a nutritional stud, especially when it comes to potassium. Nearly 900 mg of the nutrient can be found in just one medium russet potato, according to the USDA, and other varieties (red, yellow, and even sweet potatoes) are in the 400 mg and up range. These popular starches are also a good source of including fiber (leave the skin on for the most of this filling nutrient), vitamin C, and iron.
For a healthier way to eat potatoes, try steaming and mashing them with a little chicken stock for flavor, roasting them with olive oil and herbs, or baking them and topping with salsa instead of butter. Their starch makes them a great thickener for soups as well.
Though fruits and vegetables are among the best food sources of potassium, dairy products can also add the mineral to your diet. A cup of whole milk has more than 350 mg?of potassium, while the same amount of nonfat milk contains more than 400 mg.?(In general, the lower the fat in the milk, the higher the potassium.) Meanwhile, 1 cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt contains nearly 350 mg?— yet another reason to make this protein-packed yogurt (it has a whopping 25 g per cup!) a part of your healthy breakfast or snack. Yogurt also has tons of culinary uses, so you can try it as a marinade, a dip, or use it in place of sour cream to get more into your day.
Dark Leafy Greens
Some of the best sources of potassium are dark leafy greens such as spinach, which when cooked has an astounding 1,180 mg per cup, per USDA data. Swiss chard is a close second, with almost 1,000 mg per cooked cup, and even bok choy has around 445 mg per cup when cooked. All these foods contain some potassium even when consumed raw, but more when cooked. And a study published in September 2017?in Preventative Nutrition and Food Science found that boiling and frying leafy greens can increase their antioxidant properties as well. This gives you a good reason to eat leafy greens in more than just salad. Add them to stir fries or saute and serve over pasta or with eggs. You can also add them to soups.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are your best bets but when they’re not in season, dried fruit is a good second choice for a potassium-rich snack. Dehydrating fruit concentrates all its nutrients, including potassium. It also concentrates the sugar, however, so be sure to check labels if you’re watching how much of the sweet stuff you eat, and avoid any varieties with added sugars. Dried apricots net you about 750 mg per half-cup. Dried plums and raisins are other good choices. While they’re a great snack, especially with nuts in trail mix, you can also use them to add some sweetness to oatmeal, salads, or puddings.