Tara Acharya, Ph.D., M.P.H.
As the new nutrition label starts appearing on packaged food, we’re going to see potassium on the facts panel. Lately, I have been thinking about how important potassium is for us but that most of us know relatively little about what it does for us and what we can do to get more of it.
What is Potassium?
Potassium is an essential dietary mineral and electrolyte present in all our cells and it is particularly important for heart health and blood pressure, for normal digestive and muscular function as well as for bone health.
How does it work?
Potassium is the main electrolyte present in our cells. Its concentration is tightly regulated inside and outside our cells, and this is critical for normal body functions. The steady maintenance of these concentrations of potassium and sodium is extremely important for proper muscle contraction, heart function and nerve impulse transmission. There are molecules in our cell membranes that work constantly to move sodium and potassium into and out of cells. It is remarkable that this process can require an estimated 20-40% of the calories used by the body when at rest1.
So why should you get more of it?
Most Americans do not get enough potassium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans cite potassium as a nutrient of public health concern. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will also require potassium to be listed on the revised food labels.
Americans come up short in their potassium intake due to a lower consumption of fruits, vegetables, and low fat or fat free milk2. The FDA recommends that we consume at least 4.7 grams of potassium every day for good health. However, Americans are only eating approximately 2.6g per day on average3. Potassium is important in the diet because it can partially offset the adverse effect of sodium on blood pressure4.
Where can you find it?
So now that you know why potassium is good for you, how can you get more of it? Studies have shown that the best way to get all the benefits of potassium is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes, avocadoes and potatoes are also rich in potassium. For more information on potassium in foods, check out this list with the potassium in a standard serving of many foods from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Processed fruits and veggies can contribute potassium to the diet, just look for products providing 10% or more of the Daily Value on the label. Try Low Sodium V8® 100% Vegetable juice for a convenient way to fit more potassium (and vegetables) in your diet. Feel like rolling your sleeves up? You can also try these delicious recipes…
Here are a few links where you can learn more about potassium.
Eat well and enjoy potassium-rich foods today!
Tara is Director of Global Nutrition at the Campbell Soup Company. In her role, she works closely with business partners and R&D colleagues to help drive science-based opportunities that activate the company’s health and wellbeing strategy and enable significant and sustainable growth opportunities aligned with consumer expectations and customer needs. Tara has a PhD in biochemistry and MPH in international health, both from Yale University.
- LINUS PAULING INSTITUTE Micronutrient Information Center - Potassium. Accessed January 2017 at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/potassium
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2015-2020 8th edition. Chapter 2. Accessed at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/
- Potassium Intake of the U.S. Population. What We Eat in America NHANES 2009-2010. Food Surveys Research Group. Dietary Data Brief No. 10. September 2012. Accessed: https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400530/pdf/DBrief/10_potassium_intake_0910.pdf
- How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. Accessed January 2017 at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/How-Potassium-Can-Help-Control-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_303243_Article.jsp#.WG_qilMrJEY