Keep the Apple, Add a Banana

March 07, 2017

The saying goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  But perhaps “ A banana a day” would be better (or an apple and a banana.) Why? The answer is because after years of research, scientists have been able to make a definitive statement on potassium and its relationship to hypertension (high blood pressure.)  Bananas are good source of potassium, with about 420 mg in a medium banana.   

Why potassium? Potassium, a mineral found in foods, plays an important role in the normal water balance between the cells and body fluids.  Potassium lessens the effect of sodium which causes your body to retain fluids. The more fluids in your body, the more volume your heart has to pump. Potassium is also believed to ease tension in your blood vessel walls, which helps to further lower blood pressure. Potassium has also been shown to help your muscles move, your nerves to work and your kidneys to filter blood.

It can be a delicate balance between potassium and sodium. Many times, people with high blood pressure are put on medications to reduce fluids in the body (known as diuretics.) However, along with the desired loss of fluids, the body may also lose potassium, which can lead to weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps or constipation. When potassium is very low, it can be life threatening causing disruptions in heart rhythms. In situations where potassium levels are moderately to very low, a potassium supplement in pill form may be prescribed by your doctor.

Most people can maintain a desirable blood potassium level through diet. The current recommended potassium intake for an average adult is 4,700 mg per day.  Potassium is found naturally in a wide variety of foods.  Some foods considered to be rich in potassium include but are not limited to: potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados, apricots, oranges and orange juice, tomatoes including juice and fruits, prunes, lima beans, spinach, tuna and halibut, yogurt, and peas

Potassium may also be taken in a supplement (pill form), however obtaining potassium from the diet is the preferred method.  Before taking a supplement, discuss it with your health care provider.  Too much potassium for persons with kidney disorders or for those taking ace-inhibitor drugs can be dangerous. The kidney may not be able to remove potassium from your blood, which can lead to hyperkalemia (high blood potassium.)

Getting the recommended amount of potassium in the diet is one strategy to help decrease and/or maintain  blood pressure. Other steps include increase exercise, develop healthy eating habits (low fat, high fiber), quit smoking and use alcohol in moderation

Never just throw away your blood pressure pills.  You must work with a doctor when adjusting your medications.  For more information on sources of potassium, search the internet. District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) who do not have internet access can call QVHD, 248-4528 for a list. Visit us on our website, where you can like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter,  www.qvhd.org   (Information for this column was compiled from the American Heart Association, The Mayo Clinic and WebMD.)