Potassium is one of the “superstar” minerals that the body needs in generous supply and which nature, in her wisdom, adequately provides us in our food.
Potassium is an electrolyte a substance that conducts an electrical charge, a function which is vital to the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contraction. If you have any doubt how important this mineral is, just keep in mind that one of our primary muscles is the heart which must have potassium for proper regulation. It is believed that potassium from food sources may also help protect against stroke.
There are a wide variety of whole fresh foods containing potassium. It’s found in nuts, bananas, dried fruits, citrus juices, green leafy vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, meats, fish and yogurt. Bananas are probably the most commonly-known potassium source, but an equally abundant supply of the mineral can be found in other fruits. For instance, while a medium banana contains 451 milligrams of potassium, 10 dried apricots have 482 mg, a cup of fresh cantaloupe 494 mg, and one-half cup currants 642 mg.
The mineral turns up quite respectably in other foods: a small hamburger (cooked in its own juices instead of fried in oil which can reduce potassium content) has about 480 mg. Yogurt contains 350-500 mg per cup. A small ear of cooked corn has 196 mg and 10 small, raw mushrooms have a whopping 414 mg of potassium! It’s important to remember that cooking leaches out some of the potassium (drink the cooking water to maximize your mineral intake).
While most of us have little trouble eating enough potassium-rich foods, we may suffer deficiencies for other than dietary reasons. Potassium is lost through overexcretion due to diarrhea, use of diuretics and laxatives, or dehydration for whatever cause. Deficiency symptoms include lethargy, muscle weakness, abnormal heart rhythm and sometimes kidney or lung failure. Heart attacks have been linked to low potassium levels.
Alcohol can also affect the body’s use of potassium because it depresses the anti-diuretic hormone, thus increasing excretion. This is confirmed by the fact that extra urination follows drinking and so increases loss of important minerals like potassium, magnesium and zinc.
Overdosing on potassium is highly difficult to achieve just by eating foods rich in the mineral. Generally a rise in potassium levels indicates some abnormality in the kidneys. Beware of salt substitutes which are often potassium chloride. Also, avoid potassium supplements a diet rich in potassium foods should be sufficient and much better utilized by the body.
So keep those nerves tingling! Enjoy your potassium foods!
Edit. Note: We like to keep our readers informed about specific nutrient values in foods, but this is not to emphasize the value of one food over another. We always try to maintain a moderate and balanced diet.