5 Foods High in Potassium

June 21, 2015 Updated: June 21, 2015

According to Time Healthland:

A study shows that consuming just 4.7 grams of “good salt” (potassium) is the equivalent of cutting out 4 grams of “bad salt” (sodium) in terms of reducing blood pressure.

But there are only so many bananas (.5g each) you can eat. Just in time for lunch, here’s a list of 5 foods that can help boost your potassium intake.”

The article goes on to list the following sources for potassium:

  1. Swiss chard (1 cup = 1g of potassium) 
  2. Winter squash (1 cup = 1g) 
  3. Avocado (1/2 Florida variety = .8g) 
  4. Dried apricots (1/2 cup = .9) 
  5. Baked potato (1 large = .9g) 

The study found increasing intake of potassium could improve blood pressure levels at the population level.

Potassium, an essential mineral “salt” sometimes referred to as the “good salt,” is making headlines for its role in your blood pressure health. I do not agree with TIME’s five food choices for potassium listed above (I’ll explain why later), but I do suggest you make sure your diet includes foods high in potassium.

It’s long been known that people with higher intakes of potassium tend to have lower blood pressure levels, but a new study revealed just how great the benefit may be.

Researchers determined that increasing average potassium intake to the recommended 4.7 grams a day would reduce systolic blood pressure by between 1.7 and 3.2 mm Hg on a population-wide scale. This decrease, they suggest, is similar to the reduction that would occur if Westerners lowered their salt intake by 4 grams a day.

You can read my take on salt and blood pressure in this past article (namely, I believe sugar is a far greater contributor to high blood pressure than salt), but it’s clear that processed foods are far too high in refined sodium. The researchers suggested a novel solution — using mineral salts in processed foods, which would replace some of the sodium with healthful potassium.

The Potassium Blood-Pressure Connection

A proper balance of potassium both inside and outside your cells is crucial for your body to function properly. As an electrolyte, potassium is a positive charged ion that must maintain a certain concentration (about 30 times higher inside than outside your cells) in order to carry out its functions, which includes interacting with sodium to help control nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction and heart function.

There is so much research showing a link between low levels of potassium and high blood pressure that researchers now believe increasing your levels should receive just as much attention as a low-salt diet in blood pressure management.

Signs You May be Deficient

Potassium is widely available in fruits and vegetables, but if you eat a highly processed diet, there’s a chance you’re not getting enough. Further, it’s generally recommended that you take in five times more potassium than sodium, but because most Americans’ diets are so rich in high-sodium processed foods, most people get two times more sodium than potassium.

So if you have high blood pressure, it could be a sign that you’re lacking in this vital mineral. Likewise, if you’ve had excessive fluid loss, such as vomiting, diarrhea or sweating, it can also take a toll on your potassium levels, as can some medications, including certain diuretics, laxatives, chemotherapy drugs, and steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Prednisone.

Signs of severe potassium deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, abdominal pain and cramps, and in severe cases abnormal heart rhythms and muscular paralysis.

Swiss chard (WikimediaCommons)

The Best Food Sources of Potassium

Many people immediately think of bananas when it comes to potassium, but you don’t need to eat bananas to make sure you’re getting enough (and because bananas are so high in sugar, I recommend you do not eat many of them at all).

Bananas do contain potassium, but so does the vast majority of other fruits and veggies. Potassium is the predominant nutrient among most all fruits and vegetables, and there are other foods high in potassium out there. 

An avocado, for instance, has more than twice as much potassium as a banana and is rich in beneficial monounsaturated fat. The avocado was one of the five foods to make TIME’s list above, and it, along with Swiss chard, are two great options.

(Amy Selleck/iStock)
Spinach shrimp and avocado salad. A lot of potassium. (Amy Selleck/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

However, I do NOT recommend eating dried apricots or baked potatoes for their potassium. Both of these foods are high in sugar (white potatoes are a vegetable, but they digest more like a grain) and will raise insulin levels beyond what is ideal for most people — especially if you are struggling with high blood pressure.

Winter squash is a better choice, but still should be consumed only in moderation by some people due to its high carb content. 

Ideally, you should find out your nutritional type and then choose a variety of foods high in potassium to fill out your diet. However, generally speaking you can round out your potassium intake by eating a wide variety of veggies, including:

  • Swiss chard (960 mg of potassium per 1 cup) 
  • Avocado (874 mg per cup) 
  • Spinach (838 mg per cup) 
  • Crimini mushrooms (635 mg in 5 ounces) 
  • Broccoli (505 mg per cup) 
  • Brussels sprouts (494 mg per cup) 
  • Celery (344 mg per cup) 
  • Romaine lettuce (324 mg per 2 cups) 

If you are struggling with high blood pressure, optimizing your potassium intake is highly recommended. The current recommended level for adults is 4,700 mg a day.