Many Americans suffer from high blood pressure, a condition that causes the heart muscle to thicken and stiffen. As a result, it works harder, straining veins and arteries.
High blood pressure increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. It can also damage other organs in the body, such as the kidneys.
Potassium, an essential mineral, counteracts these adverse effects. It aids kidney function, controlling the amount of fluid stored in the body. The less fluid, the lower your blood pressure.
Potassium-rich foods lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. How do you get more of them in your diet?
What Is Potassium?
Potassium is a type of electrolyte. When dissolved in water, it conducts electricity. Electrolytes hydrate the body and regulate nerve and muscle function. They also balance blood acidity, aiding the regrowth of damaged tissue.
In the U.S., around 98% of the population has a potassium deficiency, a condition called hypokalemia (4).
Modern diets, which favor processed foods over whole plants, are partially to blame. Deficiency also occurs when your body experiences a sudden loss of fluids, whether through vomiting, diarrhea or blood loss.
If you have a potassium deficiency, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Fatigue and weakness
Potassium regulates muscle contractions. When you’re deficient, your muscles generate weaker ones (5). This mineral also affects how your body digests nutrients, resulting in fatigue.
- Muscle cramps
Potassium relays signals from the brain that stimulate muscle contractions (6). When you lack this mineral, your brand can’t send messages as effectively. The result is painful, prolonged spasms.
- Heart palpitations
Do you ever feel your heart beating furiously, even when you’re standing still? This feeling is called palpitation. The flow of potassium in and out of the heart regulates your heartbeat (7). Insufficient levels can make it feel like your heart is skipping a beat.
- Numbness in the extremities
Since potassium regulates nerve function, a deficiency can cause paresthesia — tingling and numbness (8). This sensation feels like pins and needles, particularly in your hands, arms, legs, and feet.
- Mood changes
Low potassium levels may disrupt signals in the brain. The result is hindered performance and mood. In one study of those with mental disorders, 20.5% had a potassium deficiency (9).
Many of these symptoms also mirror magnesium deficiency. Magnesium participates in more than 300 enzymatic reactions that keep your body in homeostasis (10). Similar to potassium, it regulates nerve and muscle function.
If you notice any of these symptoms, consult with your doctor. Your physician can run an electrolyte panel to determine if you are deficient.
What Foods Are Rich in Potassium?
Now that you understand the importance of potassium in your diet, how can you eat more of it?
It all begins with choosing the right foods.
Bananas are the go-to when you want a boost. However, white potatoes are the largest source of potassium compared to any fruit or vegetable (11). They’re also highly affordable, offering a significant nutritional value per dollar.
A single potato contains 18% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of potassium. Plus, it’s easy to bake. This is a food you can mash, roast, bake, boil and much more.
Beans are an excellent source of both potassium and protein (12). A half-cup of pinto beans, for example, contains 394 milligrams of potassium — only 28 milligrams less than a medium-sized banana. You can also reach your RDV with kidney, cranberries, and black beans.
This food is a staple in most Mexican dishes. Try a black bean burrito with brown rice and avocado. You can also make southwest soup, a mixture of pinto beans, red peppers, chipotle chilies, and other goodies.
Dear millennials, you’re doing it right with the avocado toast. Eating just one-fifth of this berry — yes, berry — provides 140 milligrams of potassium (13). They’re also chock full of other essential nutrients, including magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
Fresh avocados contain monounsaturated fats that lower cholesterol and improve heart health. They’re also an excellent source of protein. Whip up a batch of spicy guacamole or throw a few slices in your salad.
4. Melon Fruits
Do you adore honeydew? Maybe you go cuckoo for cantaloupe or wacky for watermelon? Either way, you can get a ton of potassium from a fruit salad with melons.
One cup of cantaloupe, for example, offers 473 milligrams of potassium, around 10% of your DRV (14). One slice a day can lower blood pressure and support heart health. You can also add melons to a tasty dessert pizza.
5. Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens like Swiss chard, amaranth and kale are an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals. One cup of cooked Swiss chard, for example, offers 962 milligrams of potassium (15).
Leafy greens are also proven to work wonders for your oral health. Poor oral health has been linked to a number of adverse health conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease (16). Therefore, eating more leafy greens works wonders for the body in numerous ways.
Tired of salad? Try a detox smoothie with strawberries, kale, and spinach. Make it vegan-friendly with dairy-free yogurt. You can also make spinach and kale pesto, an excellent addition to zucchini pasta.
All varieties of squash contain essential nutrients. Acorn squash, for example, contains 644 milligrams of potassium, about 18% of your RDV (17). You can also try butternut, spaghetti, and winter.
Squash is easy to make. Roast it, steam it or chop it up for a hearty seasonal soup. You can also bake it in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
This time of year is perfect for pumpkin pie, plus it can benefit your heart. Pumpkins contain high levels of potassium, along with fiber and vitamin C (18). You can also use pumpkin in curry, pasta or soup.
According to one study of 2,722 participants, consuming potassium is nearly as important in the treatment of high blood pressure as decreasing sodium intake (19).
What list of potassium-rich foods is complete without bananas? One medium banana contains 422 milligrams of potassium, around 12% of your DRV. If you’re watching your weight, skip the banana split. Instead, use this fruit in a smoothie or mixed with yogurt.
Eating a banana for breakfast each day could reduce your risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. It also reduces the effect of sodium on your blood pressure (20).
Tomatoes add zing to a variety of dishes and a dollop of potassium to your diet. Add slices to a salad or boil them into a marinara sauce. One raw tomato contains almost 300 milligrams of potassium.
Try a spicy salsa that will rev up your metabolism and give you the sweats. You can also try a vegan tomato soup mixed with fresh garlic and onion.
Do you love these tasty morsels in Asian dishes? If so, you’re packing in the nutrients. A half-cup of cooked red lentils contains 273 milligrams of potassium (21). These legumes lower blood pressure and counteract the effects of sodium.
As a bonus, lentils are also an excellent source of protein, fiber, iron and more. That same half-cup of lentils provides 15% of your daily iron needs. Add some legumes to your soup or try a tasty curry.
Wild beets supposedly grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon . The ancient Greeks used them for their aphrodisiac properties, and Thomas Jefferson planted them at Monticello, his plantation in Virginia.
Why were past societies obsessed with beets? Perhaps due to their many health benefits. One cup of this vegetable contains 442 milligrams of potassium (23). It’s also packed with protein, fiber, calcium, iron and much more.
This summertime favorite is high in potassium. As the name implies, this fruit hydrates you. Enjoy a big bowl after a workout to replenish your fluids. One wedge contains 320 milligrams of potassium. A whole melon would yield 5,060 milligrams — just a little more than your DRV (24).
Slice up some watermelon and add it to a fruit salad. If you have a juicer, make melonade. You can also freeze it for a sweet summer treat.
13. Coconut Water
Coconut water rehydrates you and replaces vital electrolytes. Twelve ounces has more potassium than four bananas. It’s also naturally free of fat and cholesterol (25). This water is often dubbed nature’s drink, as it aids a host of conditions, including kidney stones.
Coconut water has fewer calories, less sodium, and more potassium than soda and sports drinks. Simply swap out one sugary drink per day for this healthy alternative.
This seedy fruit is comparatively high in sugar and calories. Still, it makes a healthier dessert than cakes or cookies. Pomegranates contain high levels of antioxidants and potassium, combatting bladder infections (26).
An entire pomegranate contains 666 milligrams of potassium, fulfilling 14% of your DRV (27). To eat this fruit, slice it into sections and remove the seeds with your fingers. Chop the seeds in a blender and strain the juice into a glass.
15. Dried Apricots
Dried apricots offer a significant source of potassium, around 378 milligrams in 1/4 cup (28). If you don’t want to buy the sugary variety from the store, you can make your own.
Buy fresh fruit from the store. Then, pop the slices in your oven at a very low temperature. You can also use a commercial dehydrator. Either method will take several hours to cook.
Who Should Use Caution with Potassium?
People with certain health conditions should exercise caution when consuming potassium.
Your kidneys filter excess amounts from your blood. However, if you have impaired kidney function, your levels could grow too high (29). Potassium overdose can lead to cardiac arrest. It also affects nerve and muscle function.
Should You Take a Potassium Supplement?
If you have high blood pressure, consider a potassium supplement. The FDA suggests limiting over-the-counter supplements to no more than 100 mg — around 2% of your RDA (30).
Potassium supplements are typically safe unless your kidney function is impaired. Ask your doctor if it will interfere or interact with any prescription medications.
Your doctor might prescribe a higher dose of potassium if you have a severe deficiency. This regimen requires careful monitoring to ensure your electrolytes remain balanced.
The Bottom Line
You can feel better and benefit your cardiovascular health by consuming more potassium-rich foods.
While bananas are a common food that people associate with potassium, many other foods, including potatoes, leafy greens, and even pomegranate, provide us with sufficient amounts of potassium.
Eating a wide range of plant-based foods will ensure you’re getting your daily recommended amounts of potassium each day.
Make your shopping list and commit to getting heart-healthy today.