Have you noticed if you give your roses a handful of potassium, their leaves turn a darker shade of green? However, we hear about vitamin C and vitamin D, but have you ever thought why we need potassium and how much?
Well based on the fact that about 98% adults in the United States aren’t meeting their daily dose of this mineral, it is an indication most people do not know about the importance of it and which foods to eat to make sure they get the right about.
What is potassium?
Simply put, potassium is an electrolyte and mineral that is in different whole foods, ranging from legumes, leafy veg to fish. This mineral is important to our bodies as it is involved in our heart function, the way our bodies manage water balance, and it is involved in muscle contractions. More so, if your diet is rich in potassium you will be at a lower risk for high blood pressure, osteoporosis or kidney stones.
Why are there a lack of potassium in our diets?
The deficiency of potassium is basically as a result of a Western diet, filled with processed foods and lacking in minerals. You are classified of being deficient in potassium if your blood level of potassium is less than 3.5 mmol per liter. This condition is called hypokalemia. Luckily, most people are not deficient; they are just getting below the average amount of potassium.
The problem is that many people already have a low potassium daily intake, then they lose too much of this mineral through vomiting, diarrhea or when people have to take diuretics which makes you to lose water.
You will know if you have a lack of potassium if you have these three signs, and each will indicate a different level of lacking of this mineral. They are:
- Mild deficiency if your blood levels of potassium is 3–3.5 mmol per liter, and there will be no other symptoms.
- Moderate deficiency if your blood level of potassium is 2.5–3 mmol per liter and you have cramping, muscle pain, weakness and discomfort.
- Severe deficiency if your blood level of potassium is less than 2.5 mmol per liter and you have an irregular heartbeat and paralysis.
Pack your plate with these dietary sources of potassium
You could take the supplement route, but it is not advised unless your doctor prescribes it. Normally the supplement will have low levels of potassium to prevent overdosing which can lead to irregular heartbeat and damage of the gut lining. That said, a mineral like potassium is best absorbed through food, like whole foods, fruits and vegetables. Here are some of the foods you should be eating, to get your potassium in: beet greens, yams, potatoes, soybeans, avocado, sweet potato, spinach, edamame beans, salmon, and bananas.
The goal is to consume 3,500–4,700 mg of this mineral per day from foods. Athletes or those that sweat a lot, however, might need more potassium, as they will lose it through sweat.
The health benefits of potassium
Potassium has many benefits, from preventing, or easing a string of health issues. These include:
Research has shown that a potassium rich diet can lead to lower blood pressure and is ideal for people that are suffering from high blood pressure.
If you have a salt sensitivity, then a potassium rich diet can aid to reduce this problem. One study found that this condition is mostly prominent among African Americans and by consuming 4,700 mg of potassium daily can eliminate salt-sensitivity.
A potassium rich diet can reduce your risk to develop a stroke by 27%.
Other studies have indicated that being on a potassium rich diet could lessen your risk of osteoporosis, thereby keeping your bones strong to prevent bone fractures.
You will also be on a lower risk of developing kidney stone if you are on a potassium rich diet.
What if you take too much potassium?
A healthy diet should not lead to an over dose of potassium. But if you take too much potassium through supplements or you have kidney problems then you can develop hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia is the condition whereby you have too much potassium and the blood level is higher than 5.0 mmol per liter. This is dangerous.
Hyperkalemia can affect people with weak kidney function, or people who take medications that may affect kidney function. This is because excess potassium is mainly removed by the kidneys. Therefore, poor kidney function may result in a buildup of this mineral in the blood.
Also, there are others that should limit their intake of potassium. For instance people on blood pressure medications, such as ACE inhibitors, may increase the risk of hyperkalemia. As well as elderly people should take care. That is since as we age, our kidney function declines and places us at high risk to develop hyperkalemia.
We have seen that potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte, which has some importance functions to play in our body’s health. These can range from heart function, muscle contraction and water balance. In addition, if you take potassium it can counteract some lifestyle problems, such as blood pressure, salt sensitivity and the risk of stroke, by reducing these. But this mineral could also shield us from the problems of osteoporosis and kidney stones.
The best way to get our 3,500–4,700 mg daily-recommended dose of potassium in is by eating the right foods that are rich in this mineral. So eat spinach, beet greens, and fish. Supplements is not the best option, unless your doctor recommends them.