Julian Whitaker, MD
Our early ancestors hunted wild game, speared fish, and ate a multitude of fruits, berries, and other wild plants. All these foods contain an abundance of potassium and scant amounts of sodium. Today, we forage at fast-food restaurants. Sodium intake has skyrocketed, and potassium consumption is at an all-time low. As a result, we are faced with a multitude of health problems.
Why is potassium so important? First, it is one of the body’s most important electrolytes. It helps maintain the cells’ electrical charge as well as their fluid balance. It also plays key roles in electrical impulses in the muscles and nerves and is involved in the regulation of heart rhythms.
What I want to concentrate on, however, is potassium’s role in blood pressure. While a high-sodium diet has long been recognized as a risk factor for hypertension, the relationship between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure has been virtually ignored.
|Potato (medium)||782 mg||6 mg|
|Avocado (half)||680 mg||5 mg|
|Lima Beans (1/2 cup)||581 mg||1 mg|
|Tomato (medium)||444 mg||5 mg|
|Banana (medium)||440 mg||1 mg|
|Cantaloupe (1/4 melon)||341 mg||17 mg|
|Dried Apricots (1/4 cup)||318 mg||9 mg|
|Peach (medium)||308 mg||2 mg|
|Orange (medium)||263 mg||1 mg|
|Salmon (3oz.)||378 mg||99 mg|
|Chicken (3oz.)||350 mg||54 mg|
|Cod (3oz.)||345 mg||93 mg|
|Tuna (3oz.)||225 mg||38 mg|
|Roast Beef (3oz.)||224 mg||49 mg|
Potassium Packs a Punch
Numerous studies dating back to 1904 confirm potassium’s role in blood pressure control. More recent studies show that a potassium intake equivalent to five daily portions of fresh vegetables and fruits was as effective as single-drug therapy in lowering blood pressure.
I’ve seen the power of potassium time and again. Newsletter subscriber Elaine See from Chula Vista, CA, told me about her co-worker Bob in her Health Achievement Award entry. Bob had high blood pressure and was taking a drug to control it. He picked up a copy of Health & Healing that Elaine brought to work, read an article on hypertension, and decided to take action.
He immediately started drinking Low-Sodium V8 juice, changed his diet per my recommendations, and began walking at lunch every day. Not surprisingly, he lost 33 pounds and was able to get off his blood pressure medicine. His doctor was thrilled, and Bob obviously became a convert.
It’s All About Balance
Public health officials, finally recognizing the importance of potassium, recently raised the Adequate Intake (AI) guidelines for potassium from 3,500 mg to 4,700 mg per day. Yet we’re falling far short. The average American scrapes by with a little over half this amount, around 2,500 mg per day.
When it comes to sodium, however, we’re leaving the AI in the dust. The new daily AI for sodium is 1,200–1,500 mg, and the safe Upper Level (UL) is 2,300 mg. Would you believe that women average 2,300–3,100 mg and men 3,100–4,700 mg of sodium each and every day?
This is compounded by the fact that specific amounts of potassium and sodium matter less than the ratio between the two. Experts suggest that in order to maintain a physiologically healthy balance, we need to eat four times as much potassium as sodium. Yet we’re not even coming close to this.
So, how do you get adequate levels of potassium? Simply include more potassium-rich foods in your diet, and at the same time, cut out most prepared foods, which tend to be high in sodium.
Alternative Potassium Sources
Now, if the thought of eating all that foliage is a bit much for you, there are other ways to beef up your potassium intake. One is Nu-Salt. This salt substitute contains zero sodium and 530 mg of potassium per gram (1/6 teaspoon) serving. Another is Low-Sodium V8 Juice, which packs 840 mg of potassium into an 8-oz. serving.
Finally, there are “green” supplements, dehydrated blends of nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, and grasses. Taken in capsules or in a powder mixed in water or juice, they are excellent sources of not only potassium but also a host of other minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients.
What’s the bottom line? Reduce your salt intake, increase your potassium consumption, and enjoy better health.
- Keep your potassium-to-sodium levels in the proper 4:1 balance by eating lots of natural, unprocessed foods like those in the list above, and go easy on sodium-heavy prepared and restaurant foods.
- Low-Sodium V8 and Nu-Salt are sold in most supermarkets. If you can’t find them, ask your grocer to stock them.
- Naismith DJ et al. Br J Nutr. 2003 Jul;90(1):53-60.
- Moore R. The High Blood Pressure Solution. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, 2001.
- Murray MT. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA, 1996.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2004. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.