How (Not) to Increase Your Potassium Intake
Most of us aren't getting enough potassium. But it is also possible to get too much. Find out the risks of potassium supplements and salt substitutes
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I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings but almost nobody in the U.S. is getting enough potassium.
The Institute of Medicine would like us all to be getting about 4,700 mg of potassium a day. The average intake is only 2,640 mg, or slightly more than half the recommended amount. Even the folks at the very top of the chart - the 90th percentile of intake--are only averaging 3,760 mg, or about 80% of the recommended amount. Folks, this simply will not do.
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Why Is Potassium Important?
Potassium plays an important role in regulating high blood pressure - a potentially lethal condition that affects a quarter of American adults and two-thirds of those over the age of 60. Potassium does a few other useful things as well, such as preventing bone loss, reducing the risk of kidney stones, and keeping your heart beating.
Studies have also found that a high potassium intake can largely offset the effects of high sodium intake. Seeing as we don't seem to be willing or able to keep our sodium intake as low as the salt police would like, perhaps we should focus instead on increasing potassium?
Where Do We Get Potassium?
Dairy products, beans and legumes, meat, fish, and poultry all contain a fair amount of potassium. But by far the best food sources of potassium are fresh fruits and vegetables.
For foods that are high in potassium, see Nutrition Diva's Potassium Cheat Sheet.
If I could wave my magic wand and get everyone eating 5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit every day, that alone would probably knock the potassium problem out of the park. But I know I'm preaching to the choir here. (And, by the way, I also see those of you lurking in the back of the choir and not eating your vegetables!)
Should You Take Potassium Supplements?
It might seem that taking potassium supplements would be a cheap and easy answer to the problem. But I'm not crazy about this solution - for 3 reasons.....