The Power of Potassium
Reducing salt intake is often recommended to help lower or prevent high blood pressure. However, according to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, consuming a high potassium diet from childhood throughout adolescence was more protective than a low sodium diet.
The researchers evaluated the long-term impacts of sodium, potassium, and potassium-to-sodium ratio on blood pressure over a 10-year time period among 2,185 girls initially aged 9-10 years. The diets were assessed using 3-day food records (2 weekdays + 1 weekend day), and the study results were adjusted for race, height, activity, TV/video time, energy intake, and other dietary factors. High sodium intake (defined as 3,000 to <4,000 mg/day and ≥4,000 mg/day) had no impact on blood pressure compared to low sodium intake (<2,500 mg/day). Diets with higher potassium-to-sodium ratios resulted in lower systolic blood pressures, but the effect was weaker than high potassium diets alone. Girls with the highest potassium intake (>2,400 mg/day) had the lowest systolic and diastolic blood pressures at the end of adolescence.
So what’s the take away? Teenagers may get more long-term health benefits by simply consuming more potassium-rich foods rather than worrying about sodium intake. And when it comes to nutrition and diet, positive messages prevail, especially among teenagers! Emphasizing consumption of high-potassium vegetables, like potatoes, that also taste delicious is a more positive approach than primarily focusing on what needs to be limited or avoided.
Americans of all ages, including teens, tend to fall way short on potassium, so we have some work to do! The Institute of Medicine recommends an Adequate Intake of 4,500 mg/day of potassium for boys and girls aged 9-13 years and 4,700 mg/day for everyone aged ≥14 years. Luckily, potassium is found in a variety of kid-friendly foods like potatoes (including French fries), avocados, baby carrots, milk, and yogurt. MyPlate provides a good rule of thumb for meal planning—"Make half your plate fruits and vegetables"—and recommends building a healthy plate with whole grains, low- and reduced-fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats. The following food sources are a great way to pump up the entire family’s potassium intake:
High Potassium Foods
Potatoes in All Forms
Baked Potato w/ Skin
Baked Potato w/o Skin
|Dried Apricots||1/4 cup||378|
|Tomato Sauce||1/2 cup||364|
|Salad Greens (Spinach & Romaine Lettuce)||1 cup each||283|
|Orange Juice||4 ounces||222|
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 27, 2014
*Fun French Fry Fact: Gram-for-gram, French fried potatoes provide more potassium than most other vegetables.