An American diet tends to dramatically under-emphasize the importance of potassium. This critical micronutrient helps to regulate fluids in the body, synthesize protein, facilitate muscle growth, and support heart health. Under-intake of potassium is itself a tremendous health hazard, because reduced potassium levels make us more prone to salt sensitivity and hypertension. Unfortunately, we are often unaware of which foods we need in our diet to provide adequate levels of potassium.
Bananas are, by far, the most famous source of potassium, but dozens of other sources exist that can provide beneficial levels of this critical mineral. Here are some of the most surprising sources of potassium.
Ounce per ounce, potatoes have as much potassium as bananas, yet we tend to exclude them from our list of health foods. Potatoes tend to get a bad rap as health foods because they have a high glycemic index and are relatively low in vitamins, but they are still a valuable source of potassium and can be quite healthy when prepared in a low-fat, minimally processed manner. Note that much of the potassium in a potato is in the skin, so leave it on for maximum nutrition.
Dairy products, including milk and yogurt, are excellent, surprising sources of potassium. One serving of yogurt provides nearly as much potassium as a banana, while an occasional glass of milk can help to prevent dips in potassium reserves. Remember to watch your dairy intake, though, since milk products generally contain high levels of fat.
Tomatoes and tomato products loaded with potassium, naturally balanced with sodium, another critical electrolyte. Be careful not to over-indulge on heavily salted tomato products like tomato sauce or tomato paste, though, since the amount of sodium in these products can be detrimental.
All meats contain potassium, and seafoods are among the best and most surprising sources of it. Wild Alaskan salmon, well-known for its significant nutritional benefits, is one of the best sources of this essential electrolyte, while cod and flounder are also great sources. Sardines contain respectable quantities of potassium as well, but usually contain too much sodium to be considered healthy.
Fruits in general are among the healthiest, most balanced sources of potassium, and these benefits are often compounded when the fruit is dried. Apricots, for example, contain much more potassium after they have been dried. Prunes-- and undried peaches-- are also rich sources of the mineral, along with grapes and dried tomato.
Soy products are not only an excellent meat alternative-- containing much more fiber and much less fat than their flesh-based counterparts-- but they are also rich and surprising sources of potassium. Include plenty of soy-based products, including edamame, veggie burgers, and soy-chicken in your diet to maximize your potassium intake and to improve your general health.
Potassium sources go far beyond the typical daily banana. You can help to improve your overall health by including a variety of surprising sources of potassium in your own diet. Visit the National Institutes of Health for more information about sources of potassium and the mineral's role in overall health and nutrition.