Combining factors as an over acidic diet, frequent use of medications, and poor consumption of live foods, produces in our bodies an imbalance that causes health problems and disease. Among the many nutrients our body needs, potassium is one that we should pay attention to. An alkaline diet offers a variety of foods that are a great source of this much needed nutrient.
Even just a few years ago, we rarely heard the term “potassium” with regard to health. Researchers are now finding, however, a number of health benefits from including more potassium-rich foods in our diets.
Although potassium is found in a number of delicious foods, as a nation, our intake has declined over the past 50 years. Because of the increasing evidence of potassium’s role in health, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggested increasing dietary sources (not supplemental forms).
Dietary sources tend to fall within the many plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, the bran of whole grains), dairy products (like milk and yogurt), lean chicken/pork, and fish. In addition to potassium, these foods also contain many other important nutrients.
Low levels of potassium can be caused by inadequate intake through foods, depletion from certain medications (such as some diuretics, laxatives, or steroids), or losses from vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating. Certain kidney conditions can also cause a deficiency.
So what is the research showing? It appears that the benefits of increased potassium may include — heart health, more normalized blood pressure levels, reducing the risk of stroke, bone health and muscle maintenance. As an electrolyte, it also plays a role in muscle and nerve function. Potassium is related to the acid-base balance and the fluid balance of the body as well.
It has long been thought that high levels of sodium intake can negatively affect blood pressure. What we are finding is that it may be more related to the sodium: potassium ratio. One of the goals for people with high blood pressure, would be to not only limit sodium intake, but to increase dietary sources of potassium. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) endorses these recommendations. Other factors like working toward a healthy body weight and increasing dietary fiber would also be important (happily, many of the dietary sources of potassium contain fiber, too!).
When it comes to strokes, persons with higher intakes of potassium (and lower intakes of sodium) appear to be at reduced risk. This is related to blood pressure levels, but has an independent connection to blood vessel function as well. When looking at overall death rates, people with the highest intakes of potassium were at the lowest risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.
Besides cardiovascular health, studies done with older adults show a connection between higher intakes of fruits and vegetables (good sources of potassium) and reduced risk of falling. Falling is often because of muscle weakness. Consuming more potassium can help protect muscle from loss that is a result of the aging process.
How does potassium do this? As we age, our bodies become more acidic. This acidity appears to be responsible for some of the muscle decline. Being good sources of potassium (a marker of alkalinity), fruits and vegetables create a more alkaline situation that can then counter some of this acidity. In the studies, older adults who consumed more fruit and vegetables had less muscle decline.
Another condition related to changes in the acid-alkaline balance is bone. The typical American diet (which is higher in animal proteins, fats, refined carbs) tends to create a more acidic environment in the body. Acidity increases the excretion of calcium from the body. Studies are starting to show a connection between higher intakes of dietary potassium and better bone density.
For this same reason, higher potassium intakes can reduce the risk of kidney stones. When more calcium is excreted because of acid-causing foods, the higher concentration of calcium in the urine is more likely to cause stones. With a higher potassium intake, calcium excretion is less, so the risk of stones is reduced.
It has been known for a number of years that adequate potassium (an electrolyte) is important for athletes. Low electrolyte intakes can be one of the causes of muscle cramping during strenuous activity. Many athletes have befriended a banana (an especially rich source of potassium) before, during, and/or after longer bouts of physical activity to reduce the risk of muscle cramps.
With all these health benefits of potassium in mind, there are still a few situations where higher intakes of potassium can be a problem. People with reduced kidney function or those taking medications (like ACE inhibitors) that interfere with the body getting rid of potassium, are examples of situations where people may need to limit their dietary intake. Otherwise, the baseline recommendation for adults is at least 4700 mg a day.
In general then, some goals to shoot for might be to increase your intake of the dietary sources of potassium, limit animal proteins to moderate levels of intake, and reduce sodium intake. A few action steps could be filling at least half of your lunch and dinner plates with vegetables, slipping some beans into your meals, having fish several times a week, including some lean chicken or pork (the average adult serving should be about 3 ounces), adding more fruit for snacks, and boosting your intake of milk and yogurt.
As you can see, by slipping in more potassium-containing foods, you are improving your health in a number of ways.
It is not about taking supplements, or mega doses of any one specific nutrient, it is all about getting a wide variety of live nutrients in our diet through our food. Potassium is present in many healthy foods, and as part of a balanced diet, it has the ability to improve our health.
If you decide to eat lean chicken or pork as a source of potassium, make sure it is organic. Animal products that don’t come from organic farming and grass feeding, may pose many more health threats than benefits, so choose wisely. And make sure they are not your main source of potassium, get most of it from fruits, vegetables and grains. Also, talking about dairy products, which are also mentioned in the previous fragment. Even though they may contain potassium, if we put in a balance their potential health benefits and their health treats, dairy product would not fall in our recommended foods list. Remember that even though some foods may contain a certain nutrient, if their effect in our digestion is too acidifying, they may be depleting more nutrients from our system than they are providing. Check out our alkaline food chart to learn more about which foods fall on the acid and which on the alkaline side of the balance.