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Nutrition 101: Find Out Why Your Body Need Potassium

A person being diagnosed by a physician
Credit: Karolina Grabowska

The human body is a complex organism made up of organs. These organs themselves are made up of trillions of cells, each with its own structure and function.

It’s vital to maintain the good functioning of these cells because malfunctioning cells can lead to malfunctioning organs.

If you have an organ or organs not doing their job properly, you could get serious health issues.

Why our body needs potassium?

Potassium physical symbol

 

Among many minerals and nutrients, we need for survival, potassium is the eighth or ninth most common element by mass (0.2%) in the human body. It’s a mineral and an electrolyte that helps your muscles work, including the muscles that control your heartbeat and breathing.

Potassium levels influence multiple other important physiological processes, including

  • resting cellular-membrane potential and the propagation of action potentials in neuronal, muscular, and cardiac tissue. 
  • hormone secretion and action
  • vascular tone
  • systemic blood pressure control
  • gastrointestinal motility
  • acid-base homeostasis
  • glucose and insulin metabolism
  • mineralocorticoid action
  • renal concentrating ability
  • fluid and electrolyte balance

What is the recommended daily intake for potassium?

A study that was conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University, and Harvard University found that Americans who eat a diet high in sodium and low in potassium have a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause and about twice the risk of death from heart attacks. (1)

“This study provides further evidence to support current public health recommendations to reduce sodium levels in processed foods, given that nearly 80 percent of people’s sodium intake comes from packaged and restaurant foods. Increasing potassium intake may have additional health benefits,” said Elena Kuklina, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator on the study and a nutritional epidemiologist with CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.

The dietary guidelines recommend that all other people consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. In addition, the guidelines recommend that people choose more potassium-rich foods, advising 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day.

Studies revealed that less than 2 percent of Americans even reach the recommended daily intake. This makes them highly susceptible to suffer from hypertension due to the fact people are known to consume too much sodium. The majority of sodium that people consume comes from processed foods and food prepared in restaurants.

Potassium and sodium are two nutrients called electrolytes. They work together to help our body function normally and maintain fluid volume in it. Since sodium is more like to be included in our meal every day (make sure you don’t consume too much of it🙂), we should stay mindful of getting enough potassium every day as well.

You are more likely to have high blood pressure if you consume too much sodium and not enough potassium. In general, people who reduce their sodium consumption, increase their potassium consumption, or do both, benefit from improved blood pressure, and reduce their risk for developing other serious health problems.

Kidneys normally remove the extra potassium that your body does not need.  If you have kidney disease, your kidneys cannot remove extra potassium in the right way, and too much potassium can stay in your blood.

Hyperkalemia is the medical term that describes a potassium level in your blood that’s higher than normal. It can be dangerous and cause serious medical problems. So it’s better to go easy on your potassium intake and talk to your doctor if you have malfunctioning kidneys.

Which food should I eat to get enough potassium?

A mix of fruits and vegetables
Credit: Abet Llacer

Potassium is found in vegetables, fruit, seafood, and dairy products. Vegetables and fruits, such as potatoes, tomatoes, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, beans, and bananas; dairy products, such as yogurt; and seafood, such as salmon and clams, are good sources of potassium.

Bananas have long been marketed for their potassium content, but they surprisingly aren’t particularly rich in the mineral. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture database, bananas don’t even make the list of the top-thousand food with the highest levels of potassium.

The healthiest common whole-food sources are probably greens, beans, and sweet potatoes.

A medium standard portion size of a baked potato with skin and flesh has 941 mg in potassium, while a medium-sized banana has only 422 mg.

You can get the complete list of food sources ranked by amounts of potassium on this website (here)

 

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