Pump Up the Potassium

by Alisa Teglia | March 24th, 2016

March is National Nutrition Month, which is a busy month in the life of a registered dietitian. It’s a time where I spotlight important nutrition facts and clear up misinformation. Potassium is one of the most important minerals found in foods we eat. It helps to keep our muscles working efficiently (the heart is a muscle) and maintains fluid balance in our body. If you believe that only bananas and potatoes can provide this needed nutrient, then think again. The best way to pump up dietary potassium is to consume vegetables.

Which vegetables are higher in potassium?

All vegetables contain a small amount of potassium. Vegetables with notably higher potassium contents in the raw or cooked form include: beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and winter squash. The best bet is to consume a wide variety of vegetables for adequate potassium intake.

Is there a difference in the potassium content of raw vegetables versus cooked?

You may think that cooking destroys all nutrition in vegetables, but that isn’t always the case. Potassium is sensitive to heat, which can reduce mineral absorption of some vegetables, but the cooking process can also enhance potassium absorption of others. For instance, some leafy greens (like chards and beet greens) provide a bigger punch of potassium when cooked. These vegetables shrink (wilt) when cooked, causing a more concentrated amount of the nutrient per cup cooked than consuming a cup of the raw greens. Sweet baby broccoli, beets and celery also provide a larger concentration of potassium when cooked quickly (steaming, blanching or microwaving methods) instead of raw consumption.

Why am I supposed to increase the potassium in my diet?

Current research and dietary recommendations advise decreasing the content of the mineral sodium in the diet and increasing potassium to assist in lowering blood pressure. Sodium acts like a sponge and retains fluid, making the heart pump harder to move blood through the body. Potassium works by “wringing out” the sponge and removing fluid from the body. To reap this benefit, strive to consume 2-3 cups of potassium-rich vegetables per day.

Get creative with the vegetables you consume and try some of Josie’s delicious recipes! I’m partial to the Shredded Beet Salad with Cumin Feta Vinaigrette for an easy lunch meal or the Chard and Chipotle Orange Chicken Bake as a one-dish dinner.

Pump up the potassium in your diet for better health!