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For better blood pressure, don't overlook potassium

April 21, 2017—If you want to keep blood pressure down, keep an eye on how much salt and sodium you eat. We hear that a lot, and it's heart-smart advice. But pumping up the potassium on your plate may be just as important.

Researchers looked at past studies to draw this conclusion. They found that people who ate a lot of potassium-rich foods tended to have lower blood pressure, regardless of how much sodium they ate.

Potassium is a must-have mineral. It plays a role in processes like muscle function and controlling the heart's electrical activity. It also helps blunt sodium's blood pressure-boosting effects through a careful balancing act: The body gets rid of more sodium when we eat more potassium. But there's also some evidence that potassium provides a direct benefit, according to the review. Potassium also could be a marker for a healthy diet overall.

Check out the findings in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Where's the potassium?

Avoiding or controlling high blood pressure is important because the condition is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. And as research suggests, potassium might help. Adults generally need at least 4.7 grams of potassium a day. But most of us aren't eating enough.

You can get more potassium in your diet with a little bit of effort. According to the American Heart Association and other experts, good sources include:

  • Fruits such as bananas, cantaloupe, prunes, raisins, oranges and apricots.
  • Vegetables, including lima beans, broccoli, avocado, spinach, peas, tomatoes, mushrooms; winter squash; sweet potatoes; and potatoes (especially with skins).
  • Meats such as chicken and fish (including halibut, tuna and salmon).
  • Fat-free yogurt and milk.
  • Nuts.

But take note: Too much potassium can be dangerous for older adults and those with chronic kidney disease. So check with your doctor if you have questions about your potassium intake.

Don't forget to limit sodium!

Even while eating more potassium, you still want to make sure you're cutting back on sodium. Sodium is found in a lot of processed and packaged foods. Compare food labels to find the foods with the least sodium.

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