Grab a Banana to Fight High-Salt Diet

Grab a banana because you’re not getting enough potassium in your diet.  In fact, data collected in 21 countries found that, on average, none of the nations were reaching the recommended amount.  But just because no one is following guidelines doesn’t make it okay – the benefits of potassium are plentiful, particularly for people with high blood pressure.  Extra potassium counterbalances a diet with excess sodium, thus helping to lower blood pressure.

Blood pressure is regulated in part by a balance of potassium and sodium within the cells. An adequate intake of dietary potassium is essential to regulating the amount of sodium in the cells.  Years of research have shown that increasing the amount of potassium in the diet can greatly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and have positive effects on blood pressure.  However, most adults do not get the recommended 4,700 mg of potassium based on the Recommended Daily Allowances set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Conversely, most Americans consume significantly in excess of the daily recommended limit for sodium, which is known for its blood pressure-raising effects.  This benefit is important considering that one in three people in the U.S. have high blood pressure.

Recently, a research team from the Netherlands reviewed previously published data on potassium intake and reported their findings in an editorial article.  The research team found that among 21 countries worldwide, potassium intakes ranged from as low as 1,700 mg/day in China and as high as 3,700 mg/day in Finland, The Netherlands, and Poland – still below recommended levels.

Based on the data they reviewed, the researchers determined that every 600 mg increase in a country’s average dietary potassium intake corresponded to a 1.0 mmHg decrease in their average systolic blood pressure. Based on this calculation, they hypothesized that, for people living in Western countries, achieving the full recommended daily amount for potassium could result in a decrease in average systolic blood pressure by 1.7 to 3.2 mmHg–an amount comparable to what might be expected from reducing dietary sodium intake. To put these figures into context, this could mean that 2 to 5 percent more women and 4 to 8 percent more men could have ideal systolic blood pressure readings (<120 mm Hg) and up to 5 percent of women and 4 percent of men would fall out of the high systolic blood pressure range (>140 mmHg).

The team surmised that such an outcome could greatly lower the risks of death from heart disease and stroke– currently the number one and three leading causes of death in America, respectively.  Focusing on a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and minimizing high-sodium processed foods is a good start. Need some ideas?

The following foods and beverages are high in potassium:

  • Coconut water, 1 cup (about 680 mg)
  • Banana, medium (about 420 mg)
  • Lowfat milk, 1 cup (about 400 mg)
  • Spinach, ½ cup cooked (about 420 mg)
  • Dried apricots, 1/4 cup (about 380 mg)
  • Baked potato, with skin (about 920 mg)
  • Avocado, 1/2 fruit (about 345 mg)
  • Tomato, medium (about 290 mg)
  • Orange, medium (about 240 mg)
  • Commercially available salt substitutes, such as Nu-Salt and No-Salt (about 793 mg per 1/4 tsp). (But remember, too much potassium can also be dangerous for the heart, so use sparingly.)
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