What’s the Big Deal About High-Potassium Foods?
High-potassium foods are an essential part of any balanced diet. The mineral helps regulate your body’s fluid levels, aids in muscular function and waste removal, and keeps your nervous system functioning properly. Research shows that potassium reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension and may lower the risk for stroke.
"It’s essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and keeps your heart beating regularly,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a New York Times bestselling author and nutrition expert in Brooklyn, New York. “This electrolyte is necessary for muscle contractions and also helps keep sodium levels in check. Many of us don’t get enough potassium each day, so focusing on adding potassium-rich foods to our diets is smart for overall health."
If your potassium levels are too low, a condition known as hypokalemia, it can result in fatigue, insomnia, depression, muscular weakness or cramping, and cardiovascular issues such as an abnormal heart rhythm. Hypokalemia can be due to a lack of potassium in your diet, though more commonly it’s the result of taking certain prescription medications. While low potassium in the body is a concern, it’s also possible to get too much, leading to blood potassium levels that are too high — called hyperkalemia. This is something you need to be especially aware of if you have kidney problems.
The kidneys help regulate the amount of potassium in your body, but if they’re not functioning properly, too much potassium can get into the bloodstream, causing weakness or numbness, and potentially, arrhythmia and heart attack. A variety of medications, such as ACE inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and certain diuretics, can also bring potassium levels too high. Though some people need to avoid eating too many foods that are high in potassium, most healthy adults should aim for an intake of about 4,700 milligrams (mg) a day.
When people think of potassium in foods, they often think first of bananas. And yes, bananas are indeed a good source of the nutrient, but there are plenty of other colorful, tasty, and nutritious ways to work the right amount of potassium into a healthy diet. To help you do that, we’ve come up with some options, such as sun-dried tomatoes tossed into a salad or on top of a pizza, dried apricots and other fruits made for snacking, avocado smoothies, and roasted acorn squash. Leafy greens, beans, potatoes, fish, and dairy are some additional great ways to get the potassium you need.
Bake All Kinds of Potatoes — Sweet, White, or Red
Whether they’re red, white, or sweet, potatoes can be a great source of potassium; about 900 mg of the nutrient can be found in just one medium russet potato. These popular starches are also high in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and are a good source of fiber (especially in the skin) and iron. Refrain from frying your potatoes; baking potatoes is one of the healthiest ways to prepare them, but make sure to avoid adding fats such as sour cream and melted cheese. Opt for a dollop or two of homemade hummus or guacamole instead.
Toss Sun-Dried Tomatoes Into Your Salads
Fresh tomatoes contain potassium, but you’ll get even more from tomatoes in other forms like tomato paste, tomato sauce, and even sun-dried tomatoes, which contain more than 1,800 mg of potassium per cup (or around 50 percent of your daily recommended amount). Low in fat (when not packed in oil, or when drained), sun-dried tomatoes are also high in fiber and vitamin C, are a good source of protein, and help to promote both digestive and immune system health. They make a delicious addition to salads and sandwiches, and can be a great topping for pizza night with the kids.
Add Kidney Beans to Burritos, Salads, and More
If you enjoy kidney beans, finding more ways to add them to your meals may be just what you need to get more potassium into your diet. “Kidney beans are a great source of potassium, with more than 600 mg per cup,” says Largeman-Roth. “They’re also high in fiber.” She recommends adding them to your salads or mashing them up with salt and pepper to use as a burrito filling. Other beans high in potassium include white beans, lima beans, and pinto beans.
Snack on Dried Fruits: Apricots, Peaches, and Figs
For a great potassium-rich snack that can also satisfy a sugar craving, try dried apricots. Apricots are actually most beneficial to your health when served dry, or dehydrated, which causes nutrient levels to become more concentrated. Just one cup can get you about one-third of the recommended daily potassium level, or about 1,500 mg. If dried apricots aren’t your thing, try dried peaches, raisins, or dried figs, which are also high in potassium and available all year round. Look for unsweetened dried fruit to avoid added sugar.
Slice Up Bananas, Cantaloupe, Kiwi, and Other Fresh Fruits
If you’ve heard about any potassium-rich foods, you probably know that bananas are a good source, containing more than 400 mg of potassium each. Bananas make a healthy high-energy snack that's also high in vitamin B6 and a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Other high-potassium fresh fruits to enjoy are cantaloupe, kiwi, oranges, and strawberries.
Eat Avocado for Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner
If avocado isn’t a staple in your house yet, start adding it to your grocery list. This nutrient-dense food is rich in potassium — 975 mg in one avocado — as well as vitamins and heart-healthy fats, plus they're naturally free of cholesterol and very low in sodium. Luckily, avocado is so versatile that you can incorporate it into any meal of the day. For breakfast, try adding it to your morning smoothie. Largeman-Roth recommends using one of her favorite avocado recipes from her cookbook, Eating in Color. “You blend ½ avocado with ½ banana, ¼ cup low-fat vanilla yogurt, ¼ cup ice, 1 cup coconut water, 1 teaspoon of agave nectar, and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon,” she says. If you’re vegan, you can still enjoy this recipe by substituting silken tofu for the yogurt.
Add Fish Such as Wild Salmon and Halibut to the Menu
Fish lovers, rejoice: Most fish will give you at least 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of potassium. Certain fish — like wild salmon, some varieties of tuna, halibut, trout, flounder, and Pacific cod — are better sources than others; a 3-ounce piece of wild Atlantic salmon contains around 500 mg of potassium. Some fish, such as salmon, are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Make sure to purchase varieties that contain low or no mercury, and avoid breading or frying. In addition to seafood, red meat (including lean beef), chicken, and turkey also provide potassium.
Roast Acorn Squash for a Sweet, Healthy Treat
You may not think of it that often when preparing meals, but acorn squash is a food rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals — especially potassium, with one cup of cooked squash containing almost 650 mg. Steaming or roasting it keeps you from adding any unnecessary fat. “Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, slice it into rings, and roast it with a little salt, pepper, and brown sugar,” Largeman-Roth says. “It gets so tender and sweet. Kids will love it — and they can eat it like a slice of watermelon!” Largeman-Roth adds that she’s “also not opposed to drizzling it with some olive oil,” which would increase the absorption of the beta carotene in the squash.
Don’t Overlook Dairy — Milk and Yogurt Provide Potassium, Too
Though fruits and vegetables are among best food sources of potassium, dairy products can also add the mineral to your diet. A cup of whole milk has more than 300 mg of potassium, while the same amount of nonfat milk contains almost 400 mg (in general, the lower the fat in the milk, the higher the potassium). Yogurt contains between 350 and 500 mg per cup, depending on the variety — yet another reason to make protein-packed yogurt a part of your healthy breakfast or snack.
Load Up on Dark Leafy Greens like Spinach and Bok Choy
Some of the best sources of potassium are dark leafy greens such as spinach, which when cooked has more than 800 mg of potassium per cup; bok choy, which contains around 600 mg per cup when boiled, and Swiss chard, which has almost 1,000 mg per cooked cup. Leafy greens are a nutritional powerhouse — low in calories and high in a plethora of vitamins and minerals — so you can feel good about eating them every day.