If you are getting enough potassium every day, you are among the lucky few. The American Heart Association believes 98% of Americans consume too much sodium and too little potassium.
The two minerals go hand and hand, and both are frequently out of balance.
That high sodium (salt) intake is the main reason Americans get too little potassium. The ideal amount for adults is 1500 mg of sodium per day. The high “OK” level stops at 2300 mg. The average intake for Americans, at 3400 mg, goes far over the sensible limit.
Most of that excess sodium comes directly from our food, not from the saltshaker on the table. Cold cuts on our sandwiches are one main source. Other culprits include pizza, commercial breads, pasta with typical grocery-store sauces, and salty snacks.
If you’re eating in a restaurant, you are almost certainly getting a lot of salt. Fast food choices like a Big Mac with fries for lunch will nearly meet your daily-recommended allowance all by itself. Ditto a Reuben without the fries, not even counting the juicy dill pickle on the side.
With too much salt in the diet, getting enough potassium becomes extra important. Sodium and potassium need to work together to regulate blood pressure. But when your sodium is too high, your kidneys will try to flush it out of your system in your urine. But they flush out potassium, too. Then you pay the price by courting all the many troubles your body can find when potassium is too low.
High blood pressure is just one thing that potassium helps prevent. Although calcium is the main mineral needed for strong bones, potassium also helps maintain bone strength.
Potassium plays a much larger role in helping your body maintain the fluid levels within your cells so that they are in balance with the fluid levels between cells. It’s important for staying hydrated.
Your muscles need potassium to function as well… and that includes the big muscle in the middle of your chest. Your heart. Low levels of potassium can alter your heartbeat. Elsewhere, potassium is important in maintaining your muscles’ ability to contract efficiently.
Potassium and sodium are both electrolytes, so it’s not surprising that your body’s electrical systems require them. Nerve impulses depend on these two minerals. Sodium generates nerve impulses when it moves into cells. Potassium generates nerve impulses by moving out of cells.
All this is plenty of reason to be aware of your potassium intake, but there’s more. Potassium may also help prevent strokes, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.
When scientists have studied potassium levels in large groups of people, they have found that some age brackets tend to do better than others. This is one case where older Americans outscored the younger ones. The reason for this is that they tended to eat more fruits, vegetables and lean meats and relied less on fast food and salty snacks.
So, you can eat your way to good potassium levels if you avoid excessive salt and choose well.
Among the best foods to keep your potassium up, bananas are king. If you like bananas, life is simple.
The next best sources are black beans, baked potatoes with their skin, spinach, low-sodium V8, baked salmon or halibut, cantaloupes, and orange, grapefruit or prune juice. These sources are superior ones because, in addition to their high levels of potassium, they have low amounts of sodium.
Amazing how much good health comes down to eating more fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish isn’t it?
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