Take heart with potassium… . In order to live, you need minerals. Not just any mineral — eating dirt won’t be helpful, but everyone needs those major and trace minerals required for basic life functions. This article will take an in-depth look at the major mineral, potassium.
Heart Health: Potassium and Sodium
Potassium and sodium share many of the same life functions, namely transmission of nerve impulses and fluid balance, but in different locations. Where sodium operates outside the cell, potassium operates inside. Fluids found inside the cell (intracellular fluids) contain most of the potassium found in the body — 95%.
Additionally, where sodium intake increases blood pressure, potassium lowers blood pressure. Potassium is a critical element for cardiovascular function. (1) (2)
A person who has low blood potassium is in a life-threatening situation. Often, symptoms include:
- muscle cramps,
- loss of appetite,
- constipation, and
Eventually the heart will beat irregularly, thus decreasing its ability to pump blood. (1) (2)
Adults need to consume 4700 milligrams (4.7 grams) per day in order to fulfill the Adequate Intake for potassium requirements. The food and supplement labels use the Daily Value based on 3500 milligrams. Although approximately 90% of the potassium we eat is absorbed, the average North American only consumes 2000 to 3000 milligrams of potassium per day. Most need to increase their intake. (3) (4)
Where sodium is often added to foods, potassium is not, contributing to a lower intake. Also, those with high blood pressure being treated with diuretics are at risk of depleting their body’s potassium stores. Therefore, people who take diuretics waste their body’s potassium and must carefully monitor their intake of this mineral. Foods high in potassium are healthy additions to their diets. (3) (4)
No Upper Level for potassium is set since potassium toxicity is not a risk with typical food intakes as long as the kidneys function properly. Those with unhealthy kidney function, however, are at risk for the build up of potassium in the blood. This prevents the heart from functioning and slows the heartbeat. If left untreated, it results in death. (3)
The most healthy way to meet your potassium requirements is by increasing the consumption of foods rich in potassium. Unprocessed foods are generally rich sources of potassium, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk, meats, and dried beans. (4) (5)
What’s your favorite potassium rich food? Do you have a recipe to share?