Pass the Potassium Please
Potatoes, bananas, orange juice, yogurt, beans, and peaches. What a delicious way to fight high blood pressure!
My patients and clients know that sodium in their diets may push up their blood pressure, but many still don’t know about the power of potassium.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three American adults has high blood pressure or hypertension, and an equal number has prehypertension. Clearly, the majority of adults need to pay close attention to their blood pressure levels, their diet, and other lifestyle habits. Yet, only about half of Americans with high blood pressure have it under control (1).
Sadly, many people don’t know how serious high blood pressure is. I wonder if hypertension isn’t taken seriously because people think it’s so common that it can’t be very dangerous. But there’s a reason that it’s called the silent killer. Although high blood pressure usually has no warning signs or symptoms, it can lead to increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease.
Reporting in the Journal of Hypertension, researchers reviewed 15 studies examining the effects of potassium on blood pressure in normotensive and hypertensive adults who did not take blood pressure medication (2). The results confirmed those of many other studies: Potassium helps to lower blood pressure.
The researchers found that higher potassium intakes lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressures in all participants, but the blood pressure-lowering effects were greater for those with hypertension compared to those with normal blood pressure levels. The best results occurred when sodium intake was also reduced. Although there is certainly an important place for blood pressure-lowering medications, improving the diet is delicious and comes with more positive side effects.
My Bottom Line
I happily share with my patients and clients the following strategies for lowering blood pressure:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables and eat fruits and/or vegetables at every meal. Shun none, I say. Eat all types and colors. A medium baked potato with skin (173 g) provides more than 900 mg of potassium and makes an excellent contribution towards the recommended intake of 4,700 mg/day of potassium. Even a small serving of French fried potatoes (71 g) provides a healthy dose of approximately 400 mg of potassium (3). Don’t forget that potatoes also offer dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
- Other good sources of potassium include carrots, tomatoes, lima beans, lentils, spinach, and milk.
- Prepare more foods at home. Use herbs and spices other than salt and salt-containing blends. Bring out flavors with vinegars and citrus juices.
- When eating out, ask the chef to hold the salt.
- If your family isn’t ready for no salt added canned foods, mix two products together—one regular and one no salt added.
- Lose weight if necessary. Dropping even a few pounds helps.
- Be physically active every day.
- Avoid alcohol in excess.
Here’s to happy, healthy eating and to healthy blood pressure levels!
(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High Blood Pressure Facts. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm.
(2) Binia A, Jaeger J, Hu Y, Singh A, Zimmermann D. Daily Potassium Intake and Sodium-to-Potassium Ratio in the Reduction of Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Hypertens. 2015 Aug;33(8):1509-1520. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/HJH.0000000000000611.
(3) United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25 (2012).