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Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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High-Potassium Foods may Protect Your Brain

Recent research examines the connection between low potassium levels and stroke risk.

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Our bodies are virtual chemistry labs, performing all sorts of complicated chemical reactions every second of every day simply to keep us alive. When you stop to think about it, it’s truly mind boggling that we humans manage to survive, considering how unhealthy and unnatural our modern-day diets have become.

Our bodies require a wide variety of nutrients, some very chemically elaborate, and others quite simple. One of the most basic of elements, potassium is also one of the most vital. Potassium helps to keep the heart contracting normally, and is critical for nerve and brain function. Our kidneys do an amazing job of regulating potassium, although diuretics (water pills, sometimes used to treat high blood pressure), can upset the balance.

Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute recently examined 10 different medical studies that evaluated the connection between low potassium levels and stroke. In all, more than 268,000 individuals were included. Their analysis, reported in the July 2011 edition of the medical journal Stroke, concluded that for every 1,000 mg per day increase in dietary potassium, stroke risk dropped by 11 percent.

One thousand milligrams may sound like a lot, but it’s really not much at all.

  • Virtually all fruits and vegetables supply at least 300 mg of potassium per cup.
  • One large banana has close to 500 mg of potassium.
  • Soybeans are a potassium powerhouse, weighing in at about 900 mg per cup.
  • Sweet potatoes, spinach, lettuce, beans, salmon, and halibut are also terrific sources, ranging between 450 and 850 mg per serving.

Despite this abundance of potassium, the National Health and Nutrition Survey of over 9,000 American adults reported in 2008 that the average American woman’s diet included less than 2,300 mg of potassium daily and the average man about 3000 mg. An adequate level is considered to be about 4,700 mg.

If you take diuretics, check in with your doctor at least yearly to ensure that your potassium levels are in the normal range. If not, a potassium supplement may be prescribed. If you are not on a diuretic and you have normal potassium levels and normal kidney function, your best bet is to get potassium through the foods that you eat. By making simple healthy choices, including a Mediterranean type of diet, it’s easy to get all the potassium you need.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health , Supplements

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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