Recent research has found that women without hypertension consumed the most potassium (nearly 3,200 mg/day) had a 21% reduced risk of stroke. Adequate amounts of potassium are also associated with quicker recovery from exercise and improved muscle strength. As an electrolyte, potassium helps to regulate the fluid balance in your cells and throughout your body. This fluid balance is essential to maintaining life, preventing dehydration at the cellular level and maintaining brain function. For example, potassium is important in the transmission of nerve impulses in your brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system. Nerve impulses transmitting information from one nerve to the next happens as the result of electrical activity. This activity is what an electrocardiogram measures as it tracks heart activity.
Low levels of potassium have also been linked with high levels of insulin and glucose, associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. These results have been found in several studies, leading researchers to recommend dietary choices that boost potassium levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Sodium/Potassium Ratio Is Key to Strong Muscles and Relaxed Arteries
The key to relaxing your arterial walls and reducing your blood pressure is the sodium-to-potassium ratio. If you eat a lot of processed foods and few fresh vegetables, there’s a good chance your sodium-to-potassium ratio is unbalanced. It’s generally recommended that you consume five times more potassium than sodium. This ratio is far more important for your health than your overall salt intake and imbalance in this ratio can not only lead to high blood pressure but also contribute to a number of other health problems, including:
- Kidney stones
- Memory decline
- Erectile dysfunction
- Stomach ulcers
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Stomach cancer
Real Food Is the Answer
Getting nutrients from your food instead of supplements is preferable as your food contains more than a single nutrient and in different forms. For instance, potassium found in fruits and vegetables is potassium citrate or potassium malate, while supplements are often potassium chloride. The citrate and malate forms help produce alkali, which may promote bone health and preserve lean muscle mass as you age. Bone loss may lead to brittle bones or even osteoporosis. While potassium in fruits and vegetables may help build bone health, potassium chloride may not. As researcher Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes from Tufts University explains:
“If you don’t have adequate alkali to balance the acid load from the grains and protein in a typical American diet, you lose calcium in the urine and you have bone loss … When the body has more acid than it is easily able to excrete, bone cells get a signal that the body needs to neutralize the acid with alkali … And bone is a big alkali reservoir, so the body breaks down some bone to add alkali to the system.”
People who were in the neutral range for net acid excretion and have a fairly healthy balance for bone and muscle health, were eating just over eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day along with 5.5 servings of grains. When they rounded this out, it came to about half as many grains as fruits and vegetables. A simple recommendation to increase your alkali (and potassium) is to eat more vegetables and fewer grains and processed foods in general. When cooking from scratch, you have complete control over how much salt you add and when you do use salt, make sure its unrefined and minimally processed.