Written by:Eli Ben-Yehuda, April 12, 2017

Potassium, an electrolyte, is necessary for nerves to transport messages and for muscles to contract. It keeps the heart beating and helps to ship nutrients into cells and remove cellular waste. Potassium also assists in the maintenance of healthy bones and reduces the risk of kidney stones.

The author of the current review, Alicia McDonough, Ph.D., professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, sums up her findings: “Decreasing sodium intake is a well-established way to lower blood pressure, but evidence suggests that increasing dietary potassium may have an equally important effect on hypertension.”

Understanding the heart-healthy benefits of potassium 

Foods that are rich in potassium are important in managing high blood pressure because potassium lessens the effects of sodium. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine. Potassium also helps to ease tension in your blood vessel walls, which helps further lower blood pressure.

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Potassium and your diet

The recommended potassium intake for an average adult is 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day.

Many of the elements of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet — fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) dairy foods and fish — are good natural sources of potassium. For example, a medium banana has about 420 mg of potassium and half a cup of plain mashed sweet potatoes has 475 mg.

Other potassium-rich foods include:

  • Apricots and apricot juice
  • Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
  • Fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk
  • Fat-free yogurt
  • Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (talk to your healthcare provider if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)
  • Greens
  • Halibut
  • Lima beans
  • Molasses
  • Mushrooms
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Prunes and prune juice
  • Raisins and dates
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce
  • Tuna

Potassium is only one component of a well-rounded plan for blood pressure health Even though potassium can lessen the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium, eating more potassium should be combined with your efforts to break up with that excess salt and develop other healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

Is it possible to have too much potassium? Too much potassium can be harmful in people with kidney disorders. As kidneys become less able to remove potassium from your blood, too much potassium may build up.

Often, like high blood pressure, there aren’t many symptoms of high potassium hyperkalemia. Feeling sick to your stomach, a low, weak or irregular pulse and fainting may occur with high levels of potassium.

Consult with a healthcare professional before taking any over-the-counter potassium supplement. You should also ask your doctor before trying salt substitutes, which can raise potassium in people with certain health conditions and those taking ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure.

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