One out of every four Americans has high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Although lifestyle changes can help-such as being physically active and quitting smoking-when it comes to diet, most people think lowering sodium intake is the most important change they can make. But studies suggest a team of minerals-including sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium-keeps the heart pumping smoothly and blood pressure on an even keel.
Potassium, however, could be the key. Researchers found that a diet full of potassium-rich foods, such as orange juice, raisins, and sweet potatoes, may actually blunt the effects of too much sodium. In the landmark study on diet and blood pressure called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), volunteers who ate nine to 11 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, three servings of low-fat dairy foods, and lower amounts of sodium were able to decrease their blood pressure within two weeks. Researchers speculate that one of the primary reasons for these dwindling numbers was a high intake of potassium.
In addition to keeping blood pressure in check, potassium helps regulate the balance of fluid in the body to help prevent muscle cramps. That's why athletes who work out in hot, humid climates often reach for potassium-rich food, such as a banana or orange juice, after a hard workout.
The latest guidelines released by the Institute of Medicine encourage Americans to aim for 4.7 grams (or 4,700 milligrams) of this blood pressure-lowering mineral each day. And food is the best way to get the potassium you need. (In rare cases, a doctor may prescribe a potassium supplement for patients taking diuretics.) Most fruits and vegetables, and even beef and fish, are high in potassium. Here are recipes and a daily menu to help you see how easy it is to reach that goal, with an emphasis on fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.
Best Sources of Potassium
Incorporate these potassium-rich foods into your diet to reach the recommended goal of 4,700 milligrams.