Fruits and vegetables’ latest superpower? Lowering blood pressure.

By Lola Gayle, Editor-at-large

Potassium is considered to be an important mineral (and a type of electrolyte) that your body needs in order to work properly.

Not only does it help nerve function and muscle contraction, it also helps your heartbeat stay regular. What’s more, potassium helps to move nutrients into cells and waste products out of cells. And more importantly, a diet rich in potassium can help to offset some of sodium’s harmful effects on blood pressure, according to a new study by Alicia McDonough, PhD, professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC).

Sadly, thanks to our love typical Western diets (and evolution to a certain degree) we tend to crave sodium more than potassium, which the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans considers an underconsumed nutrient.

This creates a real problem when you consider the growing hypertension (high blood pressure) epidemic. In fact, hypertension affects more than one billion people worldwide. And according to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that hypertension is responsible for at least 51 percent of deaths due to stroke and 45 percent of deaths due to heart disease.

Thankfully — and with a little diligence on your part — adding more potassium-rich foods to your diet can provide real health benefits, even if your sodium intake remains relatively unchanged (although it never hurts to cut down on processed foods that contain enormous amounts of sodium).

“Decreasing sodium intake is a well-established way to lower blood pressure,” McDonough said in a recent statement, “but evidence suggests that increasing dietary potassium may have an equally important effect on hypertension.”

McDonough explored the link between blood pressure and dietary sodium, potassium and the sodium-potassium ratio in a review article published in the April 2017 issue of the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism. In her study, she found that higher dietary potassium (estimated from urinary excretion or dietary recall) was associated with lower blood pressure, regardless of sodium intake. She also found that the body does a balancing act of sorts that uses sodium to maintain close control of potassium levels in the blood, which is critical to normal heart, nerve and muscle function.

“When dietary potassium is high, kidneys excrete more salt and water, which increases potassium excretion,” McDonough said. “Eating a high potassium diet is like taking a diuretic.”

So how much dietary potassium should you consume on a daily basis? According to a 2004 Institute of Medicine report, adults should consume at least 4.7 grams of potassium per day to lower blood pressure, blunt the effects of dietary sodium and reduce the risks of kidney stones and bone loss. And there are loads of delicious potassium-rich foods available that can be easily added to your diet. For instance, a small serving of black beans (3/4 of a cup) will help you achieve almost 50 percent of your daily potassium goal.

Other potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, avocados, spinach, beans, bananas — and even coffee!

Below is a helpful chart that will help you add more potassium to your diet.

Food Serving Size Potassium (mg) Daily Value (%)
Black beans, raw 1 cup 2,877 61
Pinto beans, raw 1 cup 2,688 57
Kidney beans, raw 1 cup 2,587 55
Russet potato 1 large 1,644 35
Red potato 1 large 1,630 35
White potato 1 large 1,627 35
Apricots, dried 1 cup 1,511 32
Raisins 1 cup 1,361 29
Pistachios 1 cup 1,239 26
Yam 1 cup 1,224 26
Avocado 1 cup 1,166 25
Almonds 1 cup 1,048 22
Peanuts 1 cup 1,045 22

Source: USDA