The Best Sources of Potassium

beets1Why is it important to know the best sources of potassium? According to the Institute of Medicine, Adequate Intake for potassium (AI) is 4,700 mg. To put this in perspective, the average US male only consumes approximately 3,000 mg of potassium per day, while the average US woman only consumes 2,300 mg. This is made worse by the fact that Americans typically consume three times more sodium than potassium! The ratio of sodium to potassium is opposite of what it should be. Ideally, potassium intake should be about twice the amount of sodium intake. People from pre-industrialized cultures usually consume seven times more potassium than sodium. Adequate potassium intake is extremely important for maintaining cardiovascular health, bone strength, and muscle function. People who consume adequate levels of potassium have less incidence of stroke, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.

Below I’ve compiled a list of foods that are the best sources of potassium. Beet greens, a little-used green, came out on top! Beet greens are also a great source of calcium, so next time you buy some organic beets be sure to enjoy the leafy tops in addition to the sweet root! Like beets, most foods that are high in potassium tend to be rich in other important nutrients as well. An easy way to get more potassium in one’s diet is to replace grains with potatoes and beans, and to replace refined foods with more whole foods in general.

  • 1,300 mg – Beet Greens (1 cup cooked)
  • 961 mg – Swiss Chard (1 cup cooked)
  • 955 mg – Lima Beans (1 cup cooked)
  • 952 mg – Potatoes (1 medium baked)
  • 911 mg – Yams (1 cup cooked)
  • 896 mg – Acorn Squash (1 cup cooked)
  • 746 mg – Pinto Beans (1 cup cooked)
  • 742 mg – Kidney Beans (1 cup cooked)
  • 731 mg – Lentils (1 cup cooked)
  • 689 mg – Avocado (1 medium)
  • 650 mg – Spinach (1 cup cooked)
  • 520 mg – Beets (1 cup cooked)
  • 514 mg – Almonds (1/2 cup, dry roasted)
  • 439 mg – Cod (3 oz fillet cooked)
  • 410 mg – Carrot (1 cup, raw, chopped)
  • 390 mg – Crimini Mushrooms (1 cup, raw)
  • 380 mg – Yogurt (1 cup, plain, whole)
  • 387 mg – Salmon (3 oz fillet cooked)
  • 362 mg – Banana (1 small)
  • 360 mg – Papaya (1 cup, cubed)
  • 350 mg – Dark chocolate (50 grams , 85% cocoa or more)
  • 349 mg – Milk (1 cup, whole)
  • 307 mg – Coconut meat (1 cup dried)
  • 313 mg – Beef steak (3 oz fillet cooked)
  • 288 mg – Broccoli (1 cup raw)
  • 255 mg – English Walnuts (1/2 cup raw)
  • 240 mg – Macadamia nuts (1/2 cup dry roasted)
  • 217 mg – Orange (1 medium)
  • 205 mg – Prunes (1 oz dried)
  • 210 mg – Raisins (1 oz)

I recommend tracking your nutrient intake on Fitday for a couple of days to find out if you’re getting enough potassium to prevent disease. I don’t personally like tracking what I’m eating everyday, but I find recording my diet for at least a week or so helps me get my nutrition goals on track!

Reference:

Originally posted 2013-02-07 20:09:00.

How Much Salt is Too Much?

SaltfieldThaiLandI’m tired of being told not to put too much salt on my food.  Personally, I love salt.  It brings out the delicious flavors of my favorite savory foods.  It was my love for salt that motivated me to find out how much salt is really too much.  Here’s what I discovered: Despite the warnings of the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control, and other influential health organizations, moderate salt intake, the amount most Americans consume, has a very minimal affect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.  The research indicates that it’s really only people who have high blood pressure that need to worry about lowering their salt intake, and even then, salt intake isn’t the main culprit of high blood pressure.

The average American consumes approximately 3,400 mg of sodium per day, which is the amount in about one and a half teaspoons of salt.  Since a reduction in sodium from this level can result in a slight reduction in blood pressure, most US health organizations recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg per day.  Here’s the thing, one of the most comprehensive studies on the effects of sodium consumption to date found that people who consumed a moderate amount of sodium (between 4,000 and 6,000 mg per day!) had lower mortality rates and fewer cardiovascular problems that those who consumed either greater or lesser amounts.  While this study caused quite a bit of controversy, it continues to call traditional assumptions into question.

While it’s clear that intake above 6,000 mg per day is unhealthy, it is yet to be seen exactly how much salt is healthy or what other factors come into play.  At some level, sodium intake is essential for good health.  Sodium is the body’s principal extracellular electrolyte; it works in conjunction with potassium (which gathers within the cells) to ensure proper nervous system function, muscle contraction, optimal blood pressure, and cardiac function.  Sodium also promotes intestinal absorption of water, glucose, amino acids, and chloride.  Chloride, in turn, competes with heavy metals for absorption in the body, promoting detoxification.  

As far as blood pressure goes, sodium intake is only half of the puzzle.  Potassium is the other half of the puzzle, and it’s a nutrient that many Americans are short on.  Numerous studies show that increased potassium intake results in lower blood pressure and fewer incidences of stroke.   Many sports nutritionists recommend achieving a potassium to sodium ratio of 2:1, but getting that much potassium requires eating a lot of whole foods. 

Whole foods that are particularly good for cardiovascular health include:

  • Potatoes, oranges, avocados, spinach, and bananas — they’re are all great sources of potassium and help improve the potassium to sodium ratio.  They also contain cardiovascular supporting antioxidants and phytonutrients. 
  • Dark Chocolate – its high magnesium (which most Americans are deficient of) and rich polyphenol content reduce hypertension almost immediately after consumption.
  • Hibiscus tea – it’s relaxing, tasty, and several studies have shown that it effectively reduces hypertension.

Based on the evidence surrounding sodium intake, potassium, and blood pressure, I’m led to believe that the amount of salt consumed isn’t so important as the types of food salt is added to.  According to one government health site, Americans get 75% of their salt from fast food!  The Center for Disease Control says that American get 90% of their salt from food bought from stores or restaurants.  In other words, we get very little salt from what we add to homemade food.  It’s all the refined and pre-made foods that contain most of the salt we eat, and there are other problems with those foods besides their salt content (like their refined sugar, refined flour, and seed oil content).

The take away:  

The current evidence indicates that moderate consumption of salt (2 tsps) can be part of a healthy diet.  Nevertheless, eliminating fast food and refined foods from one’s diet would likely reduce total sodium intake far below this.  Therefore, instead of focusing on reducing salt consumption, it makes more sense to focus on increasing whole food consumption (while allowing generous use of salt as a seasoning).  A diet that emphasizes tubers over grains as a carbohydrate source would also go a great way towards increasing total potassium intake.

As a final note, there are several means of supporting cardiovascular health in addition to eating whole foods, these include: regular exercise, stress free living, and getting quality sleep.  In other words, to maintain good cardiovascular health: EAT real foods, PLAY outside, and REST often!

References:
JAMA Research on Sodium Intake and Mortality
Harvard’s Response to JAMA
Potassium to Sodium Study
Linus Pauling Institute on Sodium

Originally posted 2013-02-02 05:54:00.

Whole Oranges vs. Orange Juice

Have you ever wondered if drinking orange juice is as healthy as eating the whole orange? Perhaps you haven’t, but many people seem to think that drinking a serving of fruit juice is equivalent to eating a serving of whole fruit. This misunderstanding is reinforced by claims the USDA allows fruit juice companies to make on their products, such as “One serving is equal to one serving of fruit.” I’m not quite sure how the USDA arrived at supporting such a statement (probably because of the lobbying pressure from large food companies), but to say what is in some cases little more than liquid sugar is equal to a serving of whole fruit is preposterous. Don’t get me wrong, some juices are better than others, such as the less refined ones that are unfiltered or with pulp, and fruit juice is usually healthier than soda, but even juice with a little bit of fiber left in it doesn’t compare nutritionally to a serving of whole fruit.

Whole oranges and orange juice provide the perfect opportunity to compare the differences between the two. Check out the picture above of the three glasses of processed oranges. The glass on the left contains the juices of three hand squeezed oranges while the two glasses on the right contain the pulp and juice of three whole oranges that I liquified in a blender (minus the peel). Three whole oranges produced almost twice the volume of material as the juice alone. That extra material is the pulp and pith which contain a number of important nutrients that work together to make the whole orange a highly nutritious food.

To start, the high fiber content of a whole orange helps the body properly process the high fructose content of the juice. The fiber actually blocks some of the sugar from being absorbed, which makes the orange more nutritious for the amount of calories it contains. The fiber also makes a whole orange much more filling than the juice (it’s far easier to consume several glasses of high sugar orange juice than several whole oranges). If you eat a whole orange you’ll also be more satisfied and less hungry for calorie-dense, nutritionally-deficient food later on.

In addition to the benefits of the extra fiber in the pulp, a whole orange contains numerous health promoting micro-nutrients that aren’t found in the juice alone. One of the most researched is a flavanoid called hesperidin, which is concentrated in the pulp and inside of the peel. Hesperidin shows promise as an anti-inflammatory, in lowering blood pressure, and in promoting healthy cholesterol. One animal study also found that a diet rich in orange pulp increased bone density!

I’m not saying that we should never drink orange juice again; studies have shown that fresh-squeezed orange juice has significant anti-oxidant properties. It’s just important to know that the juice isn’t as healthy or satisfying as the whole fruit. Juices and other drinks can be a hidden source of surplus calories for those trying to live healthfully. A diet that emphasizes whole fruits over juices contains fewer sugary calories and more health promoting nutrients!

Originally posted 2013-01-12 02:35:00.

Eggs revisited

Eggs and other foods containing cholesterol have been given an extremely bad wrap over the past 30-years; yet, contemporary research is revealing that cholesterol might not be the cause of cardiovascular disease after all. Rather, the biggest culprit of metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease) is the health degrading combination of an American high-carb diet (refined flour, starches, and sugars) with a physically inactive lifestyle. So, don’t ditch the eggs and bacon – lose the donuts and pancakes! Eggs shouldn’t be avoided because of their high cholesterol content.

Every egg is loaded with six grams of high quality protein!  Eggs also contain important nutrients that many people don’t get enough of in their diets, such as choline, biotin, and selenium. And if it didn’t get any better, eggs are an extremely versatile food (fry em’, boil em’, scramble em’), delivered in biodegradable, compostable, and edible packaging.  Thats right, edible – in fact, up until a few years ago, it was common for people to eat the shells, which are 98% calcium!  For more information on eggs, cholesterol, and heart health, click the link below:

Dr. Katz from Yale University on Eggs and Cholesterol

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” -Luke 11:11-13. According to Jesus, eggs are a good gift! Interestingly enough, he also mentions fish, which are also incredibly good for health!

Originally posted 2011-04-06 17:12:00.