Potassium (symbol K), the big kahuna for nerve transmission, heart and cardiovascular health is a chemical element, one of the alkali metals, which is names after pot ash or plant ashes (from which it was first isolated). It is one of the five major minerals in the human body alongside calcium, phosphorous, sodium and magnesium. And when we say major, it means that it is absolutely indispensable for normal functioning of not only human, but all living cells. Without calcium, you wouldn’t have bones. Without potassium, you wouldn’t have cells.
Benefits of Potassium
Discussing the benefits of potassium is not the same as talking about the benefits of some other nutrients found in food, such as antioxidants in “super foods”. We cannot ignore the fact that potassium is an essential mineral (not just a potentially beneficial compound), meaning that a sufficient intake is necessary for the normal functioning of the human body. As such, the benefits are not as obvious when everything is working fine, but symptoms of potassium depletion as a consequence of deficient intake will certainly make themselves known. Which means that, in simple terms, when we talk about the benefits of potassium, we are actually talking about preventing the adverse side-effects of potassium deficiency.
Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency
Although mildly low potassium levels do not always cause symptoms, some of the following symptoms may appear:
- high blood pressure
- leg cramps
Chronically low potassium levels increase the risk of cardiac arrest and developing abnormal heart rhythm. All of these symptoms can be alleviated with sufficient dietary intake of potassium through potassium-rich foods.
Potassium is also essential for the normal functioning of the nerves and brain. In addition, it makes the arteries more flexible and helps with high blood pressure by getting rid of excess sodium. It makes the bones stronger and lowers the risk of developing kidney stones.
Foods High in Potassium
You can satisfy your daily intake of potassium by eating a variety of foods, since it is found in all fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. But don’t let that fool you because, when it comes to potassium, all foods are equal, but some foods are more equal than others. You can see which is which by looking at this list:
- Dried apricots – Have the highest concentration of potassium by weight; also a great source of vitamin A, vitamin E and iron.
- Bananas – The one potassium-rich food that everybody knows of, although their actual potassium level per serving is relatively low.
- Parsley – In addition to potassium, rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, primarily luteolin, apigenin, folic acid, vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Pregnant women should avoid excessive consumption as it can induce contractions.
- Yam – Also rich in vitamin B6 and vitamin C; true yams are hard to find, and what you call yams may in fact be sweet potatoes (luckily just as rich in potassium).
- Nuts – Pistachios and almonds top the list, but all nuts are up there; nuts rate as “healthy snacks” and are a great source of good fats, vitamin E, vitamin B2 and folate.
- Chocolate – Also an excellent source of riboflavin and vitamin B12.
- Potatoes -Also a rich source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C.
- Avocado – Rich in B vitamins and vitamin K, in addition to being a great source of monounsaturated fat (which prevents against cardiovascular disease).
- Bran – Rich in essential fatty acids and dietary fiber.
- Soybeans – A great source of all essential nutrients, which also may lower the risk of developing breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
- Milk – Famous for calcium, contains a number of different nutrients.
- Spinach – Spinach is best fresh, steamed or quickly boiled; when prepared right, it retains its nutritional value (high levels of vitamins A, C and K, magnesium, manganese, folate and iron).
- Tomato sauce and tomato paste – Remember the “pizza is a vegetable” joke? The high potassium levels might justify counting various tomato sauces as a serving of vegetables.
Avoid processed foods, since they often contain no potassium. Potassium levels have an effect on taste: low levels taste sweet, medium taste bitter and higher levels taste salty. Processed foods have a manufactured taste which could potentially be affected by potassium. That is why potassium is removed from processed foods. When you factor in the high sodium levels, you can see why you should opt for the fresh foods we have listed instead and go bananas on fatigue, leg cramps, high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythm.