What is the importance of potassium? Potassium levels are closely connected with heart health.
According to WebMD:
“Potassium plays a role in every heartbeat. A hundred thousand times a day, it helps trigger your heart to squeeze blood through your body.
It also helps your muscles to move, your nerves to work, and your kidneys to filter blood.”
So, the importance of potassium cannot be overestimated.
Why do American diets tend to be low in potassium? Diets are low in potassium because fruits and vegetables are the best consistent sources of potassium, and people aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that only 1 out of 10 people are getting enough vegetables in their diet.
So, how do you make sure you and your family are getting enough potassium in your diet? Eat more fruits and vegetables, and other rich sources of potassium, such as nuts, beans, dairy products, and whole grains. Find vegetables and fruits you enjoy, and eat lots of them! For example, I love avocado and broccoli. And my son likes avocado and broccoli as well. Thus, we eat broccoli almost every day, and avocado whenever it’s in season.
It is true that the greater the variety of vegetables and fruits you eat, the more healthy your diet will be. However, eating two super healthy vegetables every day is better than NO vegetables! Especially since eating vegetables and fruits every day is the best way to make sure you are getting enough potassium in your diet.
Food Sources of Potassium
The best way to get enough potassium is to eat fruits and vegetables. However, most foods contain at least some potassium:
- potatoes, including sweet potatoes (see below for recipe for home made French fries)
- beans and peas
- dried fruit (raisins, apricots, prunes, and dates)
- dairy products
- whole grains
- meat and fish
The above foods are all sources of potassium. However, calorie for calorie, vegetables and fruits are, by far, the best sources of potassium. For example, 1 banana has about 422 mg of potassium which is over 10% of the US Recommended amount of 3500 mg, (banana has 100 calories) while 1 cup diced cantaloupe has 417 mg (about 60 calories).
Compare the amount of potassium
in the bananas and cantaloupe to ground beef, which is a good source of potassium, but is much higher in calories and fat. Of course, lean ground beef can be an important part of a balanced diet. However, ground beef doesn’t have the other nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables (fiber, vitamin c, vitamin a, etc). This is another example of how important variety is in our diet.
Tomatoes and avocados are also rich in potassium in addition to being excellent sources of lots of other vitamins and minerals. For example, a 1/2 cup of canned tomatoes provides about 250 mg potassium, and an avocado has a whopping 945 mg.
Cow’s milk is an excellent source of potassium as well. For example, 1 cup serving of nonfat milk contains 382 mg potassium. However, cheese is not such a good source of potassium (1 ounce cheddar only has 20 mg potassium).
This drives home the importance of adding vegetables and fruits to your and your kids’ menu, especially if they eat a lot of macaroni and cheese.
Besides being rich in potassium, there are many reasons why vegetables and fruits are important. For more information and ideas on how to encourage your family to eat more fruits and vegetables, click here.
Can you get too much potassium?
It is technically possible to get too much potassium. However, it would not normally come from the diet, unless your kidneys are not functioning properly or you have uncontrolled diabetes.
Excessive potassium in the blood can be caused by dehydration, or excessive diuretic use. Dehydration causes loss of water in blood which increases the concentration of potassium in the blood.
Diuretics, especially what are known as potassium-sparing diuretics, are often used for high blood pressure or excessive fluid retention. For example, in conditions such as congestive heart failure or pre-eclampsia of pregnancy. However, these types of diuretics are safe, when used as directed by a doctor. When diuretics can become dangerous, however, is when someone takes large amounts of diuretics to lose weight. This is more common in eating disordered individuals.
So the point is, excessive potassium is not generally a concern in healthy individuals who are following their doctor’s orders.
Here are some fun activities you can use to teach your children about the importance of fruits and vegetables for good health.
Homemade French Fries
- Add oil to large non-stick pan
- Heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
- While oil is heating, cut potatoes into wedges. Cut potato in 1/2, and then in 1/2 again, and then 1/2 until wedges are about 3/8' square size.
- When oil is ready, add potatoes carefully to pan using a pair of tongs
- Cook potatoes until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
- Drain on a paper towel covered plate for at least five minutes. Pat french fries with paper towels to remove excess oil.