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Why Do People Need Potassium?

author image Sandi Busch
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.
Why Do People Need Potassium?
Fruits and vegetables contain potassium. Photo Credit: olgakr/iStock/Getty Images

If you want a healthy body that supports your lifestyle, you can't afford to short-change yourself on potassium. Like many other essential nutrients, it helps build proteins and metabolize carbohydrates. As an electrolyte, potassium stimulates nerves and muscles throughout your body. It even helps your bones retain calcium. However, some of its most vital functions affect your cardiovascular system.

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Carry Electricity

Potassium belongs to a group of minerals called electrolytes, which have the ability to carry electrical impulses. In addition to transmitting impulses that stimulate muscles and nerves, potassium works with other electrolytes to maintain the proper amount of fluids in your body. When you consume acidic foods or drinks, it helps ensure that your body’s level of acidity stays in a healthy range.

Regulate Heartbeat

Potassium regulates your heartbeat by controlling the rate at which heart muscles contract. When levels of potassium get too low or high, your heartbeat becomes irregular -- and your heart can even stop beating. Your potassium levels may be lower than they should be if you are like most Americans and consume only half the potassium you need daily, according to the USDA. High levels of potassium typically result from kidney disease or other medical conditions such as severe burns or bleeding, tumors, injuries and infections.

Lower Blood Pressure

Sodium and potassium both affect blood pressure, but they have opposite roles. Sodium raises your blood pressure, while potassium lowers it. An article published In the September 2012 issue of “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” reports that 99.4 percent of all Americans consume more sodium than the American Heart Association's recommended daily intake of 1,500 milligrams. This is in sharp contrast to getting just half of the recommended potassium. Consuming a diet high in sodium and low in potassium doubles your risk of dying from a heart attack, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Build Bones

The nutrients associated with building strong bones are calcium and vitamin D, but potassium also affects the amount of calcium in your bones. If your levels of potassium are low, your body produces less new bone, while also losing more calcium and minerals from existing bones. In addition to weakening bones, this loss of calcium increases the risk of developing kidney stones.

Recommendation and Sources

To meet your recommended daily intake of 4,700 milligrams of potassium, you'll need to include sources of potassium at every meal. Two of the best sources are potatoes: One baked potato supplies 610 milligrams of potassium and one sweet potato has 694 milligrams. One cup of yogurt has about 579 milligrams of potassium, while one banana contains 422 milligrams. You’ll get about 350 to 380 milligrams from 0.5 cup of beans, 1 cup of fat-free milk and a 3-ounce serving of chicken and fish. Other good choices that supply 300 to 400 milligrams per serving include winter squash, spinach, celery, apricots, cantaloupe and orange juice.

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