You don’t hear much about potassium—but you should. It’s important for muscle strength, nerve functioning, and a healthy cardiovascular system, says Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D., a Philadelphia-based nutritionist. The nutrient’s in lots of delicious foods (think: melon, avocados, bananas, and white beans). But even if you get the recommended 4,700 mg per day, you still might have a deficiency. Why? The more sodium you consume, the more potassium your body excretes, says Brill.
There are so many reasons why you need to make sure that you’re consuming an adequate amount of potassium-rich foods daily.
Symptoms of low potassium are highly undesirable and can include:
- severe headaches
- heart palpitations
- swelling of glands and tissues.
- constant fatigue
- high blood pressure
- faint or dizzy
- rapid heart rate
A new study, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, suggests that getting ample potassium may even protect you from heart and kidney disease. Although the researchers focused on people with type 2 diabetes, “it’s reasonable to assume that the findings would pertain to those without diabetes as well,” says Pete Miller, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Potassium from natural food sources, like the list of potassium-rich foods below, are considered very safe and very healthy.
Avocado is definitely one of my favorite potassium-rich foods. A 2013 study published in the Nutrition Journal revealed epidemiological data from 2001 to 2008 that describes the effects of avocado consumption on metabolic disease risk factors. Overall, they found that people who ate avocados tended to have healthier diets overall as well as an increased nutrient intake and a decreased likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome.
2) Acorn squash
Acorn squash is a vegetable source of potassium that really should be more popular than it is because it also contains high levels of antioxidants. Most impressively are the carotenoids contained in just one serving of acorn squash. This type of antioxidant is well-known for helping prevent and fight various types of cancer, including skin, breast, lung and prostate cancer.
Not only is spinach a potassium-rich food, scientific research has shown that spinach contains plant chloroplast glycoglycerolipids, which are believed to act as cancer fighting agents. Add just one cup of spinach to your day and you’ll get a respectable 540 mg (11% DV) of potassium!
4) Sweet potato
A medium baked sweet potato has 542 mg (12% DV) of potassium. These tubers are also rich in vitamin A and are also high in beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin B6. Plus sweet potatoes have been shown in scientific animal research to exhibit anti-ulcer activity and are likely helpful in the successful treatment of peptic ulcers.
Chomp down two refreshing watermelon wedges and you’ll get 641 mg (14% DV) of potassium. It’s also a great source of lycopene, a naturally occurring plant pigment that’s been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers.
A cup of cooked, sliced beets delivers 518 mg (11% DV) of potassium. Beets have anti-cancer fighting properties and are a good way to help eliminate toxins from your body.
Pomegranate seeds and its juice are awesome fruit sources of potassium. They’re also loaded with fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K amongst other nutrients. In addition this potassium-rich food list, the pomegranate also lands on other lists like the top 10 aphrodisiac foods due to its ability to reduce cortisol levels in the body. Pomegranate juice has also been found to be the healthiest fruit juice in the world.
8) Coconut Water
Looking for more potassium-rich foods that come in liquid form? I like including coconut water on this list because when you choose well (no added sugars), you have a beverage option that is high in electrolytes like potassium, but not too high in sugar or calories. Coconut water has even been used in emergency situations as an IV hydration fluid.
9) White Beans
White beans might be the best source of potassium in the grocery store: A single cup has 1189 mg. That’s a full quarter of what you need every day. That same 1-cup serving also packs a whopping 20 g of protein and 13 g of fiber. According to the Mayo Clinic, consuming fiber-rich foods like white beans help to lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. High fiber diets also encourage a healthy waistline.
Bananas are well-known for being a potassium source and they are a good one, but they also relatively high in sugar and carbs. That’s why I recommend bananas as a quick source of energy before a workout or a post-workout nutrient-rich recovery food to help repair muscle and balance water retention. Exercising, especially an intense workout, is one of the major ways that your potassium levels can get drained so that’s why it’s crucial to consume potassium-rich foods like bananas. Scientific research has also shown that bananas are rich in dopamine, a major mood-enhancing hormone.
Benefits of Potassium-Rich Foods
An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium is the most important dietary change a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Dr. Mark Houston, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School and director of the Hypertension Institute at St Thomas Hospital in Tennessee.
In one study, those who consumed 4,069 milligrams of potassium per day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1,000 milligrams per day).
One of the main benefits of consuming high potassium foods is decreased muscle cramping and improved muscle strength. Muscle weakness, muscle aches and muscle cramps are common side effects of low potassium levels. This can happen if an athlete becomes dehydrated and isn’t consuming enough potassium-rich foods before and after exercise. Potassium is also helpful for cramps related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Reduced Risk of Stroke
Several observational studies have found that those with high potassium levels experience a lower risk of stroke. The risk of ischemic stroke in particular is lower in high potassium consumers. The positive relationship between increased potassium intake and decreased stroke risk is believed to be from dietary sources rather than supplements that do not appear to provide the same positive effect.
Alleviation of High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Low potassium intakes have been linked time and again with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Most people know that maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, but ensuring a good intake of potassium may be just as important.
Reduced Cellulite Appearance
One of the main causative factors of cellulite buildup is fluid retention. Most people consume far too much sodium and not near enough potassium. Sodium brings nutrients into your cells where potassium helps flush excess waste out of your cells. For this reason, if you reduce sodium intake and start consuming potassium-rich foods you may reduce the appearance of cellulite.
Potassium-rich foods promote an alkaline environment in the body, unlike the common acidosis caused by the typical Western diet. Metabolic acidosis is triggered by a diet full of acidifying foods like meat, dairy and processed cereal grains, which can cause nitrogen excretion, loss in bone mineral density and muscle wasting.
One study found that participants that took in 5,266 milligrams of potassium per day maintained an average of 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass than those with a potassium intake 50 percent lower. Some studies also show an increase in bone density with high potassium intake.
Research has found a direct relationship between increased bone density and increased intake of dietary potassium. Citrate and bicarbonate are two potassium salts which are naturally found in potassium-rich fruit and vegetables and a recent study reveals that these potassium salts can actually improve the health of your bones and ward off osteoporosis.
While it may seem like just another compound among thousands, potassium is a mineral with innumerable advantages to keep your body functioning. Found in almost every natural food, especially green leafy ones, potassium is considered a major mineral that is required in somewhat large amounts.