NYS Certified Nutritionist

Potassium’s Role in Managing Blood Pressure

It is not unusual for clients to be referred to me because they have been diagnosed with hypertension, high blood pressure. Elevated pressure of the blood’s flow against the walls of our blood vessels presents risks to our brains, hearts, kidneys, and eyes. Because of the potential seriousness of this condition, health care providers treat hypertensive patients with medications, while suggesting they lose weight, and reduce their intake of sodium [salt].

Salt attracts water, and consuming more than we require can increase the blood’s volume which increases the pressure of that larger blood volume against the walls of the blood vessels, and that is what blood pressure is. Many of us have experienced eating a salty dinner, waking up the next morning with swollen eyelids, and fingers. This swelling is caused by the sodium [in our dinner] attracting water within our bodies which then seeps into the tissues around the eyes and hands.

So, reducing our intake of sodium [salt] does make sense. But, often forgotten, is another important mineral, potassium. Countless studies have found that the typical American diet is deficient in potassium. And, it is well known that one is more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, if one consumes inadequate amounts of potassium rich foods. The famous DASH diet, from the National Institutes of Health, teaches people to manage their blood pressure, by consuming 4,700mg of potassium per day…from their diets, not from supplements. The average US citizen falls short of this sensible goal.

Health care providers will often tell their patients to eat a banana a day, knowing this could be a reminder to eat more potassium-rich foods. But, one medium banana only offers about 422mg of potassium. One cup of cubed cantaloupe has 427mg, one medium orange has 237mg, 1 cup of chopped broccoli has 278mg, one medium baked potato has 926mg, 1/2 cup cooked spinach has 419mg, one cup of dairy yogurt has 531mg, one cup of cooked pinto beans has 746mg, and 6 ounces of salmon has about 600mg. The largest amount of potassium per serving is 1,328mg from 1/2 cup tomato paste. The reason for this enormous value is because the water has been removed from tomatoes to make a thick concentrate of rich tomato flavor packed with nutritional value.

The bottom line is that eating more fruits and vegetables, a plant based diet, is more likely to provide adequate amounts of potassium, lowering the likelihood of developing high blood pressure. Using animal sources of protein as a condiment [or flavoring agent] in our meals is a safer, and smarter, way to care for our bodies, rather than having the animal portion dominating the surface of our plate.

For a wonderful resource, google “Current Dietary Guidelines.” Then look for “Food sources Potassium.” My suggestion, as long as you do not have kidney problems, is to aim for the goal suggested by the DASH diet, consuming 4,700mg dietary potassium per day.

Dateline: Town of Colonie, Albany County, New York State’s Capital Region