Nutrition By Mercedes Aspland / July 9, 2014 This post is part of a series I have started looking at essential minerals that the body needs and this one is looking at potassium which does not get as much discussion as other minerals. Potassium is an electrolyte and required by the body to control the distribution of fluids. One great advantage it can have is that it helps to remove sodium from the body which can be vital as many diets are high in sodium which can result in high blood pressure. Potassium deficiency can range from relatively minor symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps to far more serve symptoms like anaemia, palpitations, high blood pressure and diabetes. However it is important to strike a balance as excessive amounts of potassium in the blood can also cause severe problems like nausea, tingling in hands and feet, irregular heartbeat and if in very high doses and untreated, coma. Health Benefits of Potassium There are a lot of conditions that potassium have an effect on and we have put a list of the most significant ones below: 1. Muscle Conditions, Cramps and Strength – potassium is vital for your muscles and as previously mentioned if your potassium levels are too low one of the first signs might be muscle cramps. If you are doing a lot of physical exercise you can lose potassium and so it important to refuel which is often why you see tennis players eating bananas. Potassium also aids the neural connectivity of muscles with the brain which can help with the correct use and activation of muscles. As well as this it can help the strength of your muscles by ensuring the proper growth of muscle tissues and the proper utilisation of energy released during metabolism. 2. Blood Pressure, Heart Disease & Stroke – One of the main benefits of potassium is it can counter any damage done to blood pressure by sodium and so is vital in maintaining healthy blood pressure. It also has the ability to dilate blood vessels ensuring proper blood flow which also reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. 3. Anxiety, Stress and Depression – Potassium can help to balance many of the hormones in the body, in particular the stress hormones and so adequate amounts of potassium can have a significant effect on mental health. 4. Kidney Disorders – Potassium is thought to aid the kidneys in processing and excreting waste and so helping the overall function of the kidneys. However if you have a kidney disorder you should consult a doctor before taking supplements as high doses of potassium are known to damage kidneys. 5. Blood Sugar – If your potassium levels fall then so can your blood sugar as so it is vital to keep your levels up. Very much with the muscle cramps this is something that you should consider when you are exerting a lot of energy and ensure you are replacing the potassium that you lose. 6. Bone Strength – Most people think that it is calcium that is responsible for bone strength but potassium also has a role to play. There are a number of acids within the body that can prevent the uptake of calcium however potassium will neutralise these acids allowing the body to use the calcium taken on more efficiently. 7. Water Balance – As mentioned above one of the ways the body uses potassium is to regulate the fluids around the body including water. Water is vital to our health and it is important that every part of the body gets the right amount and potassium plays a major part in this. It is for this reason that if you do a lot of exercise or even drink alcohol that you take on additional potassium. Top Foods Containing Potassium There are a lot of places that you can get potassium and I have put below a list of some of the best plant based places to get them: 1. Beans – Most beans are a good source of potassium but white beans are thought to be best. You will also get a lot of benefits from butter beans, Adzuki Beans and Soy beans. If you want another reason to eat more beans then this is it. 2. Dark Leafy Greens – Of these spinach is the best but you will also get a great dose from chard, kale and other similar veggies. It is for this reason that I recommend you to eat at least 2 portion of leafy green veg per day. 3. Potatoes – I am putting these in cautiously as potatoes can cause spikes in blood sugar and should only been eaten in moderation. You could also go for sweet potatoes but again try and think of the GL of the meal as well. 4. Dried Fruit – Again this another one to be cautious of, if you have any issues with your blood sugar then I would say stay away from these completely. If you do want to eat dried fruit then the best ones are dried apricots, prunes and raisins. 5. Squash – This is quite a broad food type as it includes acorn and butternut squash as well and courgette/zucchini and marrow. All of these veggies are fine for your blood sugar and have a decent amount of potassium so stock up on these with no guilt. 6. Avocado – Who does not like avocado, there are so many ways you can use it so if you can eat more avocado. 7. Mushrooms – There are so many varieties of mushroom that you can really vary this but they are a good source of potassium and so great for upping your intake. 8. Bananas – These are an excellent source of potassium and are easy to carry around with you so are perfect for times of physical activity and giving yourself a quick potassium boost. 9. Nuts – Another food that is great for when you are on the go a lot of nuts have a great source of potassium and so are perfect for when you need a quick boost. Potassium Boosting White Bean Salad Serves 4 Total Time: 15-20 mins Ingredients 1 x 400g/15oz Can of Cannelini Beans 1 x 400g/15oz Can of Butter Beans 100g/3.5oz Baby Spinach 1 Avocado Chopped 50g/1.75oz Almonds, chopped 2 Celery Sticks, chopped 10 Cherry Tomatoes, quartered 1 Yellow Pepper, chopped Dressing 1 tsp Chilli Flakes (optional) 3 tbs Olive Oil 3 tbs Cider Vinegar 2 tbs Lime Juice Salt & Pepper to taste Instructions 1. Prepare all of the salad ingredients, apart from the dressing, and mix in a large bowl. 2. In a small pot mix all of the dressing ingredients and mix well. 3. Pour dressing over salad and mix before serving. Nutrition This recipe will give you a massive potassium boost with each serving containing 1369mg which is 39% of the daily recommended value. Plus this salad will also give you a large dose of vitamin A and vitamin C. If you are concerned about your blood sugar then this salad fairs really well too with an approximate GI of 24 and estimated GL of 8.