Blood Pressure, Heart Health, Nutrition

Pass the Potassium, Please

yellow bananas

Many discussions about hypertension lately seem to revolve around sodium, most notably the recommendation for limiting the amount of sodium in the diet.  One of the findings of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s DASH study was a diet low in sodium is effective at lowering high blood pressure (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).  But there’s another nutrient that also needs to be included in the hypertension conversation:  potassium. 

Like sodium, potassium is an essential nutrient for living—in fact it works along with sodium to keep the body’s fluids in balance and send messages along the nervous system.  Potassium also plays a role in muscle contraction and is crucial for keeping the heart beating properly.  But while sodium is abundant in the typical American diet, many people don’t get enough potassium. 

 Adding more potassium to your diet can be as easy as eating a variety of fruits and vegetables—in fact the DASH eating plan, which emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, is higher in potassium than the typical American diet.  Bananas are probably one of the best known sources of potassium (there’s about 450mg in one medium banana), but sweet potatoes, white potatoes (with skin), tomatoes, oranges, avocados and apricots are good sources as well.  And another plus:  fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium.  

Some other non-vegetable sources of potassium include white beans; fish such as tuna, halibut and salmon; and dairy products like low fat milk and yogurt.  Check out the USDA’s Nutrient Database for more information on nutrient content— including sodium and potassium— of many common foods.

(Post content reviewed by MGH Cardiologist and Nutritionist. Photo from

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