Nutrition

Potassium | Why Do We Need It?

We were all little kids once, being fed bananas by our parents and orange slices during our soccer games. “You need your potassium”, they would all say. But we never fully understood why, and most still don’t beside the vague idea that it’ll stop cramps and keep us healthy. This lack of knowledge is nobody’s fault, but unfortunately, it has led to a dangerous deficiency of potassium in the average Americans diet.

Almost half of the country’s population is not getting the daily recommended dose of this mineral. It is important to understand that potassium does much, much more than just prevent cramps. Some of the things potassium can help with include:

☐ Preventing strokes/heart attacks

☐ Increasing bone health

☐ Increasing your metabolism

☐ Lowering blood pressure,

There are many more benefits alongside these, which I will discuss. Potassium is extremely important to stay healthy. So sit back, enjoy your sweet potato and enjoy this article!

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Why Do We Need Potassium?

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, potassium is more important to stay healthy than most people realize. The biggest lifesaving benefit potassium has on the human body is its ability to lower blood pressure. This happens because potassium has an inverse relationship with sodium, in that as you consume more potassium, it in a sense pushes the sodium out of your body. This is important because most of America is getting much more sodium than it needs, leading to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. In addition to helping rid the body of excess sodium, potassium acts as a vasodilator, which relaxes the blood vessels and lowers the chances of getting a deadly clot.

The reason why many people get cramps during exercise and in the middle of the night is an electrolyte imbalance (potassium being the electrolyte in this situation). A low level of potassium is more specifically known as hypokalemia and can be very painful depending on the severity of the imbalance. Having balanced electrolytes is very important for those who are active and grow their muscles through contractions. Unless a certain concentration of potassium is maintained, muscles have problems properly contracting and relaxing. Most potassium in the body is located in the muscle and when maintained, our reflexes and contractions are at their peak performance, if not then cramps and slowed reflexes come into play.

Potassium is also very important for brain and nerve health. Being involved in higher brain function like learning and memory, a deficiency can cause many detrimental effects such as epilepsy and other neurological disorders. For our nervous system to work properly, many electrical signals need to travel between to the brain and down the spinal cord. Without proper potassium levels, these signals will be much slower and some might not even work at all which can be lead to many bodily issues. There are numerous other functions that potassium controls and regulates in the body but I won’t go over all of them. The rest of the article will focus on how much potassium you need to stay healthy and at peak performance as well as foods that are high in the mineral.


Foods High In Potassium

The daily recommended amount of potassium an average adult needs to consume sits at 4,700 mg, and most of America gets less than half that. In our culture that bathes food in salt and high sodium sauces, it’s not a surprise that blood pressure is up and potassium rich foods are down. But it’s not too late! Getting a good source of potassium in with every meal and using a salt substitute on your meals will make you healthier in many ways! The top 10 best sources of potassium you should be eating include:

✓ White and sweet potatoes, with 925 and 950 mg per cup Most forget that sweet potatoes aren’t the only nutrient powerhouse in the tuber category! White potatoes have almost as much potassium as sweet gram for gram. So don’t be tricked into thinking white potatoes are empty carbs, they can be delicious and healthy (when they aren’t in deep fried form).

 

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✓ Spinach and kale, with 838 and 296 mg per cup I’m on the list of people who aren’t sure why kale became so popular while spinach was cast aside with Popeye. Both are a good source of potassium and should be part of your diet. But to get the most bang for your buck spinach has over double the amount of potassium per serving compared to kale (maybe combine them in your salads or shakes?).

✓ Avocados, with 727 mg per cup. Besides being a delicious powerhouse of healthy fats, avocados are an excellent source of potassium. Guac is definitely worth that extra buck at Chipotle!

✓ Brussel sprouts and broccoli, with 494 and 457 mg per cup. Along with being very healthy micronutrient wise, cruciferous veggies like these are not very calorie dense, meaning they are low in calories, but will still fill you up. Others that are similar include bok choy, with 630 mg of potassium per cup and collard greens with 222 mg per cup.

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✓Beet greens, I saved the best source of potassium for last, as beet greens contain 1308 mg of potassium per cup. That’s nearly a third of your daily recommended intake. The beets themselves are still a good source of potassium with 518 mg per cup, but the leaves attached to them take the cake as the best source of natural potassium we know of. Add these greens to salads and recipes like you would cooked spinach or broccoli to add some fresh flavor and life saving potassium!


Potassium Supplements

The good thing about most of the foods listed above that are high in potassium is that they are relatively cheap. But of course foods do take time to prepare and depending on how busy you’re day-to-day it may be difficult for you to get these foods into your daily diet. So an alternative, to make sure you’re getting enough potassium, comes in the form of supplements.

Dipotassium Phosphate is one of the supplements you can take to make sure you’re consuming enough potassium. The main benefits of this supplement include:

✓ Contributing to a normal nervous system

✓ Helping to maintain normal muscle function

Maintaining normal blood pressure

The main benefit of this supplement is of course how easy it is to consume. You can simply add 1g to a shaker filled with water or fruit juice, 4 times daily.


Take Home Message

Hopefully after reading this article you know just a little bit more about your body and what you should be putting into it. Potassium is a forgotten nutrient, but it is more important than most realize. Unfortunately what our doctors told us 30 years ago to “eat a banana every day and you’ll be fine” isn’t nearly enough potassium we need for a properly functioning heart, brain, nervous system and for movement, among other things. So the next time you’re going out to eat or making yourself lunch, add some color whether it be from orange sweet potatoes, yellow bananas or green avocados to get yourself up to 4,700 mg a day.

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Billy Galipeault

Billy Galipeault

Writer and expert

Billy is passionate about all things fitness and nutrition, with an emphasis on muscle and strength building. He's currently serving active duty in the air force, while building his body muscle by muscle in his free time.


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