EWWK: Understanding the importance of potassium

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

The topic I want to discuss today is potassium and it brought to mind a conversation with my daughter during her second week of kindergarten.

Maybe you have to be a dietitian for potassium to remind you of a quote from your child, but I will explain.

The scenario: My daughter comes home from school and says, “I don’t want to go back; my teacher is mean.”

Me: “Why do you think your teacher is mean?”

Genny: “She is always telling us to be quiet."

Me: “Are you talking during class?”

Genny: “No.”

Me: “Then she is not talking to you, honey, and she has to get the kids to be quiet so you can learn."

Genny: “But she can’t hear me being quiet."

I thought yes, indeed, the good sometimes get overlooked in our world and as I began thinking about potassium and sodium, I saw a similar trend. We hear so much about sodium and how it is bad and what foods it is in, that we forget about potassium. Potassium is plentiful in fruits and vegetables and has been shown to blunt the effect of sodium and help to lower blood pressure. Yet we hear little about potassium. So I have taken up the cause today.

Most of us get too much sodium, and most of us do not get enough potassium.

Guidelines issued by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science encourage adults to consume at least 4,700 mg of potassium every day. This is about double of what most Americans actually consume. Potassium is an important macro mineral that helps with muscle contraction (your heart is a muscle), fluid balance and aids in the release of energy from carbohydrates, fat and protein.

Examples of high potassium foods:
-Baked Potato: one medium, baked = 800 mg
-Orange juice: one cup = 496 mg
-Broccoli: one cup cooked = 460 mg
-Banana: one medium = 450 mg
-Cantaloupe: one cup = 430 mg
-Spinach: ½ cup cooked = 420 mg
-Skim milk: 1 cup = 382 mg
-Pinto beans: ½ cup cooked = 373 mg
-Tomato: one medium = 290 mg
-Strawberries: ½ cup = 230 mg

The best way to ensure that you get enough potassium is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Cook vegetables with minimal water and for short amounts of time to reduce potassium loss.

Some people should not increase the potassium in their diet and may need to limit the amount consumed. This includes people with kidney disease and people on certain medications. Talk to your doctor before increasing the amount of potassium in your diet.

Also note that salt substitutes often contain high amounts of potassium and should only be consumed under direction of a physician.

One last word of dietary wisdom … potassium is only one aspect of heart health. Sodium, fat, fiber and the overall diet plus other lifestyle factors all impact your cardiovascular system.

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