What is it?
Potassium is a key mineral that the body needs to function properly. This mineral helps to regulate your heartbeat and is also involved in proper kidney function, muscle contraction and nerve transmission. Potassium also has a role to play in the synthesis of protein and metabolism of carbohydrate which ensures a constant supply of energy to living cells.
How does potassium help with good health?
There are authorised claims that potassium contributes to:
- Normal functioning of the nervous system
- Normal muscle function
- Maintenance of normal blood pressure
Research regarding the mineral has highlighted several ways in which potassium assists with good health.
Low intakes have been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure and even more so when accompanied with high intakes of sodium in the diet. Sodium makes your body hold on to water which puts extra pressure on blood vessel walls. Potassium helps with the relaxation of blood vessels that help to lower blood pressure while also helping to balance sodium levels. Research involving the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet found that in people with high blood pressure a diet containing 8.5 servings of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables per day, plus low-fat dairy products and reduced sugar and red meat lowered blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke risk and higher potassium in the diet has been associated with a lower incidence of stroke. A study of over 43,000 men found that those with the highest intake (4300 mg daily) were 38% less likely to encounter a stroke compared to men with an average intake of 2400mg daily.
Too little potassium in the diet may lead to a depletion in calcium from bones increasing calcium in urine. Over time this may lead to the formation of hard calcium deposits known as kidney stones. Ensuring a good intake in the diet may help to reduce the risk of kidney stones.
Where can we get it?
Dietary sources of potassium include bananas, spinach, kale, beetroot, salmon, beans, pulses, lentils, avocado, potatoes, melon (all varieties), squash, courgette, low-fat yoghurt, mushrooms, kiwi fruit and tomatoes.
How much do we need?
The recommended daily amount is 3500mg. The NDNS survey has shown that men get an average of 3145mg daily while women get 2588mg indicating that dietary intakes of potassium fall short of the recommendations. This may be associated with the fact that only 30% of adults achieve the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
How to boost your intake
It is easy to ensure you’re getting enough potassium in your diet. Here are a few tips to help get enough in your diet.
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
- Try swapping meat for beans and pulses in dishes such as chilli, curry, or Bolognese sauce.
- Snack on dips such as guacamole, hummus, or baba ghanoush served with sliced vegetables.
- Include plenty of green vegetables in your diet.
- Try low-fat yoghurt topped with nuts, seeds and fruit for breakfast or a satisfying snack.
- If you are exercising or involved in high-performance sport then potassium is needed as an electrolyte or post-illness it can help with recovery, try Healthspan Elite Activ Hydrate and Activ Hydrate with Caffeine, 40 effervescent healthspanelite.co.uk, £12.99
Potassium supplements are not advisable unless recommended by a health professional. This mineral is generally not included in multivitamin and mineral blends given high intakes can be harmful. The best approach to ensuring your potassium intake is through the diet.
What to avoid
People with kidney disease or using certain medications should avoid potassium supplements or too much of the mineral in the diet as they can develop abnormally high levels which is a condition called hyperkalemia. This condition can result in symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, chest pain, heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Such medications include ACE inhibitors (used to treat high blood pressure, heart, and kidney disease) and potassium-sparing diuretics (used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure). Hyperkalemia can also occur in healthy people who get too much potassium from supplements.
A to Z of vitamins and minerals is a guide by Dr Sarah Brewer who is the Medical Director at wellbeing brand Healthspan and Rob Hobson who is a Registered Nutritionist. You can find more in this series on our Nutrition channel.Tags: A-Z of vitamins, nutrition, Potassium, Rob Hobson, Sarah Brewer Last modified: June 9, 2023