Potassium: The Unsung Mineral

Potassium doesn’t receive much media attention, overshadowed as it is by other, more “glamorous” minerals and vitamins, such as calcium, C, and E. It’s time to shine the spotlight on this low-profile yet important mineral.

The body requires potassium, an essential mineral, in relatively large quantity – at least 4,700 milligrams per day according to the latest nutritional recommendations. Such a large concentration is necessary to maintain healthy nervous system functioning, regular heart rhythm, muscle contraction, water balance, and acid-base balance. Recent studies have shown other positive health benefits which result from optimal intake of potassium; specifically, it helps lower blood pressure and prevent bone loss, kidney stones, and strokes, promising benefits for just one mineral!

Due to our abundant consumption of processed foods, the American diet is low in potassium. The only way to reach optimal levels (the magic 4,700 mg.) is to dramatically increase our daily consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. A sample potassium-rich breakfast would include: 1 banana (490 mg.), a bowl of oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of wheat germ (270 mg.), and 10 almonds (105 mg.). A suggested mid-morning snack might include ¼ cantaloupe, consisting of 370 mg. For lunch, consider ½ cup cooked spinach (420 mg.), ½ cup acorn squash (450 mg.), 3 oz. broiled halibut (490 mg.), and ½ cup grapes (155 mg.) An afternoon snack could be an orange, at 230 mg. Finally, try the following for a healthy vegetarian dinner: 1 baked potato (940 mg.), bean soup containing ½ cup dried lima beans (490 mg.), and ½ cup zucchini (230 mg.).

Can you get too much of a good thing? The answer is yes and no. You can’t get too much potassium from foods unless you have kidney disease, whereas you may get too much potassium if you take potassium supplements. It’s advisable to get potassium levels checked by your doctor to see how best to proceed.