By Heather Jewett, BHS Dietetic Intern
Potassium is a nutrient that is often overlooked, and it is essential to understand where to find it and why it is important in our diets.
Potassium is an electrolyte that acts opposite of sodium in our body’s cell membranes. Too much sodium in the diet is known to increase blood pressure, and adequate potassium intake can help maintain a healthy vascular system and heart.
Potassium is found in a variety of foods. Foods high in potassium include:
- Fruits like bananas, kiwis, cantaloupe, avocados, prunes and apricots
- Vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, lima beans, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and winter squash
- Dairy products like milk and yogurt
- All meats (red meat and chicken) and many types of fish.
- Other plant based proteins like nuts, beans, legumes, soy products, and veggie burgers
Potassium is important as we get older because we need it to build proteins and muscle, to control the electrical impulses that make our hearts beat, to use carbohydrates in the body, among other functions. Most people do not eat enough potassium. In severe potassium deficiency, symptoms of weak muscles, abnormal heart beat, and an increased blood pressure can occur.
A diet rich in potassium has the potential to improve health outcomes for a longer, healthier, and happier life. There are some cases where people may have to restrict potassium, as in kidney disease. If you fall into this category, follow the advice of your doctor or dietitian on what foods to limit. When it comes to potassium-rich foods, don’t be shy! Pile your plate high with potassium-rich fruits and veggies and enjoy the reward of a happy heart.