Once upon a time, the ashes that remained after burning wood were considered a valuable commodity. Stirred into a pot of water and then leached, the resultant “pot ash” could then be used in the manufacture of textile dyes, soap, fertilizer, glass, and gunpowder, as well as many other products. It wasn’t until 1807 that the chemical makeup of potash was discovered by running an electrical current through it and observing the formation of a pure element, which was named potassium in a nod to its origins.
While potassium and its salts are critical for the world of industry, the mineral potassium is also very important nutritionally. For some reason, bananas are the food most commonly associated with the element, even though it’s found in a diverse range of foods, many of them whole plant foods.
Despite its availability in many foods, potassium is one of the nutrients of public health concern in the US because so few people actually manage to get enough of it. The US dietary guideline for potassium for adult females is 2,600 mg per day — almost 300 mg per day more than the average woman consumes. The 3,400 mg that males are told to aim for daily is likewise around 300 mg more than the average potassium US men get.
The good news is, just one or two additional servings of potassium-rich foods per day could totally eliminate both gaps.
But why do you need potassium in the first place? What happens when you don’t get enough? And what does it take to get adequate amounts from the food you eat?
Stay tuned, and you’ll get answers to those questions, along with seven potassium recipes to make it easy and delicious to meet your potassium needs.
Why Do You Need Potassium?
Potassium, designated as K on the periodic table, is an essential mineral required to keep your body running efficiently. It functions as an electrolyte, which is any substance that conducts electricity when dissolved in water or melted, and which is crucial for any bodily function that relies on the sending and receiving of electrical impulses.
Potassium, in particular, helps keep your body hydrated and your nervous system healthy. It plays a vital role in keeping your heart beating steadily, your muscles working smoothly, and your nerves firing properly.
By regulating your body’s fluid balance, potassium also supports healthy blood pressure levels. It can also keep your kidneys functioning properly, protect the health of your bones, and regulate your blood glucose level. In short, potassium is crucial for just about every aspect of your health and well-being.
Important digression here: If you’re worried about your potassium levels and you currently have kidney disease, please check with your health care provider before loading up on potassium, either in food or supplement form. There’s a condition, hyperkalemia, that consists of dangerously high levels of potassium in the blood, caused by kidneys that lack the ability to filter the element.
Aiming for High Potassium, Low Sodium Foods
So far, I’ve been talking about potassium in a bit of a vacuum, nutritionally speaking. But to really understand the role that potassium plays in your body, you have to look a little more holistically. Because potassium works together with another element, sodium, to do an extremely important job: maintain fluid equilibrium across cell walls.
How they do this is kind of complicated, involving something called “membrane potential,” which has to do with the difference in electrical charge between the inside and outside of your cells that determines whether fluids move in or out of those cells.
The upshot for your health, though, is quite straightforward: potassium blunts some of the effects of sodium to keep the fluids in a healthy balance. That way, your cells don’t blow up like overinflated balloons, or collapse like punctured ones.
In a perfect food world, this process would happen naturally, and you wouldn’t need to think about it. But because the modern industrialized diet delivers far more sodium than potassium, your potassium/sodium ratio may be skewed in the direction of not enough potassium. This can increase your risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Conversely, limiting your sodium intake by minimizing processed, packaged, and fried foods, all of which tend to be high in sodium, can balance the potassium/sodium teeter-totter from the other direction.
Top Potassium Foods
While you may be tempted to pop a pill if you’re low in potassium, there are good reasons to get it from food if possible — the main one being that potassium-rich foods are also packed with other vital nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that work together to support your health.
So what are the potassium heroes of the food world? Here are some excellent sources of the mineral, along with their potassium and sodium levels per 100-gram serving (which, for the visually minded, is about the size of four button mushrooms or a quarter block of tofu).
|Bananas:||358 mg potassium||1 mg sodium|
|Oranges:||181 mg potassium||0 mg sodium|
|Sweet Potatoes:||337 mg potassium||55 mg sodium|
|Spinach:||558 mg potassium||79 mg sodium|
|Tomatoes:||237 mg potassium||5 mg sodium|
|Papaya:||182 mg potassium||8 mg sodium|
|Butternut Squash:||352 mg potassium||4 mg sodium|
|Avocado:||485 mg potassium||7 mg sodium|
|Black Beans:||355 mg potassium||1 mg sodium|
You don’t have to memorize this list or get it tattooed on your forearm to take advantage of potassium-rich foods. If you adopt the general strategy of opting for fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and flavor them with herbs and spices rather than pouring on the salt, you’ll likely get all the potassium you need.
Potassium is abundant in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, making it a delicious way to meet your daily needs. You can find potassium-rich ingredients in both sweet and savory recipes. And, with a bit of food combining, you can craft a dish that has nearly 50% of your daily value in just one meal!
Whether you start your day with Toasted Pistachio and Cherry Overnight Oats or enjoy one of these savory potassium-rich dishes for dinner (like Moroccan Spiced Sweet Potato, Chickpea, and Spinach Stew, or Quinoa, Lentil, and Mushroom Stuffed Acorn Squash), you’ve got a few tasty ways to enjoy this magnificent essential nutrient!
Meeting a portion of your nutrient needs can be as simple as enjoying a bowl of naturally sweet and tart cherry oatmeal with a hint of nutty pistachio goodness swirled throughout. Toasted Pistachio and Cherry Overnight Oats packs a whopping 740 mg of potassium in one serving alone. Not to mention, this sweet breakfast delight is chock-full of fiber, plant-based protein, and other healing plant nutrients, making this a nourishing breakfast that provides long-lasting plant power!
Tomatoes may not be synonymous with potassium-rich foods in everyday conversation, but, boy, are we glad they are a healthy source of this essential mineral! Roasted Tomato Basil Soup is a simple, classic dish to enjoy any night of the week. If you are wondering just how much potassium you can get in one serving, about 415 mg is the magic number. Closing the potassium gap is easier (and tastier) than you think.
If you’re looking for a fresh way to increase your potassium intake, why not give papaya a try? Sweet papaya adds a delightful and colorful twist to an otherwise sour and zingy flavor experience in this tasty Citrusy Papaya Cauliflower Ceviche. What’s more, the combination of mango, lime, and cauliflower brings even more potassium to the party, making this a nourishingly wholesome dish in so many ways!
A simple and refreshing way to add a bit more potassium to your meals is through a healthy drizzle of Orange Shallot Vinaigrette over top of your favorite salad, grain bowl, plant-based protein, or pasta salad. With approximately 180 mg in just one orange, this dressing is a win-win for both nutrition and flavor!
Moroccan Spiced Sweet Potato, Chickpea, and Spinach stew is a nourishing bowl of scrumptious plant-based ingredients that is bursting with nutrients. It’s made with onions, carrots, sweet potato, chickpeas, and spinach; flavored with toasted spices; and finished with fresh herbs to create a flavor-packed meal you’ll be excited to make again and again. Not to mention, this dish is loaded with potassium (and a few other essential nutrients) from the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and spinach. One serving of this comforting stew provides about 50% of your daily potassium needs!
Quinoa, lentils, squash, bell pepper, and mushrooms are a tasty combination that provides plenty of nutrients like protein, carotenoids, vitamin C, and, you guessed it — potassium! This warm and comforting dish has all the nutrients you need to support a healthy immune system, maintain electrolyte balance, and keep your nerve function in tip-top shape. Bonus: The fragrant and cozy aroma of this stuffed squash that will fill your home is a win all by itself!
Nothing says wholesome indulgence quite like Chocolate and Almond Butter Avocado Mousse. Potassium-rich avocados are the MVP of this recipe when it comes to bumping up the potassium content, but we can’t give avocados all of the credit. Cacao, almonds, and dates are all foods packed with essential minerals, including zinc, magnesium, manganese, and our star of the show — potassium! In just 15 minutes, the magic of a potassium-powered treat will appear before your eyes and tantalize your taste buds!
Get Your Potassium from Food
Potassium is a chemical element that plays a crucial role in supporting your health and promoting your overall well-being. Most people aren’t getting enough, while at the same time consuming too much sodium, putting them at risk of hypertension and chronic disease.
Fortunately, it’s easy to remedy this imbalance by consuming a variety of potassium-rich whole plant foods and reducing extra sodium. By doing so, you’ll not only add whole food flavor and diversity to your meals but also nourish your body with the many nutrients found in plants. Try the recipes we’ve just shared to get whole food sources of potassium and keep your sodium low in the process, too.
Tell us in the comments:
Have you ever struggled to maintain healthy blood pressure? What dietary changes did you make?
What are your favorite potassium-rich foods?
What potassium-rich recipe will you try first?
Featured Image: iStock.com/Tijana Simic
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