Fruits and vegetables are one of the best sources for getting heart-healthy potassium. Because potassium is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, it is highly absorbable and can be used by the body in a variety of ways. Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that regulates blood pressure as well as muscle function. Symptoms of a potassium deficiency are muscle weakness, aches, cramps, nausea, anxiousness, drowsiness, weakness, and an irregular heart beat. However consuming an adequate amount of potassium is not too difficult if a few easy foods are consumed with regularity. I have put together a compilation in no particular order of 5 (okay maybe 6) fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium. Enjoy.
Let’s just get the most obvious one out of the way, bananas are famous for their potassium content but are also high in the vitally important mineral, manganese, as well as both vitamin C and fiber. Here’s a tip for peeling a banana; pinch the tip on the end opposite to the “handle” (stem) and peel from that end and you won’t have any more bruised bananas. I got this tip by watching monkey’s eat bananas on the Discovery Channel.
2. Prunes – 637 mg
Although commonly used in cases of ‘plumbing problems,’ prunes are high in potassium as well as free-radical-busting antioxidants. Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered why prunes have an almost magical power to relieve constipation, it’s because they are high in a natural laxative known as dihydrophenylistatin. Remember that factoid, and later you can really impress your friends!
3. Potatoes – 763 mg
Before you justify those frequent trips to McDonalds for a side (meal) of fries let me preface by saying that the heart-healthy attributes of potassium in potatoes can be quickly negated if you add enough hot grease and salt. With that said, potatoes pack some pretty potent potassium (say that 5 times). The starchy tubers are a great source of other nutrients such as Vitamin B6 and manganese. It also has more Vitamin C than most citrus fruits but most is denatured (destroyed) when the spud is cooked. Just in case you are tempted to try and eat the potato raw, don’t, you’ll end up with a belly ache because the starch in potatoes is only digestible when broken down by heat (cooked).
People love to know ‘em, grow ‘em and throw ‘em. For over a hundred years, this fruit (that’s right, they actually are a fruit) has been unfortunately included in the lineup of such notorious vegetables as brussel sprouts and broccoli (just kidding, I love both). It actually was an act of congress that led us all down the wrong nomenclature path into calling tomatoes veggies. Way back in 1887, a U.S. tariff law imposed taxes on vegetables but not on fruits. Since our lawmakers weren’t really any more honest back then, they reclassified all sorts of fruits as vegetables in order to increase veggie revenue. I wonder if it was called “The Tomato Scandal of 1887” Regardless, to this day, such fruits as tomatoes, cucumbers, and even pumpkins, while technically fruits are considered vegetables. I say leave that debate in the past and focus on what’s important; tomatoes are a delicious source of potassium!
Die hard fans may be interested to know that the spinach industry was nearly bankrupt before the cartoon hero “Popeye” came to the rescue. In just a few short years, he had kids happily munching on “me spinach” again and had made spinach farmers rolling in green (money that is, not spinach). While spinach was originally chosen as Popeye’s “magic food” for its high iron content, that wasn’t the only thing transforming his strength from a wimpy weakling to a hulking hero. The high amounts of potassium in spinach caused his muscle filaments to tighten and relax at proper intervals giving the burley sailor the ability to lift houses, bend steel, wallop Pluto in the kisser, and most importantly, save Olive Oyl from certain doom.
Now an often overlooked aspect of potassium in the diet is that we should be consuming at least 4,700 mg of this mineral per day. This means eating a lot of bananas, a lot of potatoes, and probably more prunes than those around us would prefer. As a clinical nutrition scientist, I would be hard-pressed to ever suggest alternatives to fruits and vegetables but I will offer a suggestion for upping the potassium intake of those struggling to get enough. Goat milk is an excellent source of natural food-based minerals, such as potassium. When these minerals are gently extracted from the milk, the final product is a concentrated food called Capra Mineral Whey. Just 2 tablespoons of Capra Mineral Whey has over 1,000 mg of potassium, which trumps all of the foods listed above. As a mineral supplement, Capra Mineral Whey not only has high levels of potassium but also calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Here’s my parting shot; always remember the wise words of Popeye the Sailor Man: “I yam what I yam…” which coincidentally is also a vegetable high in potassium. (820 mg)
Joe Stout, M.S. – Clinical Nutrition Scientist
Joe Stout received his Bachelors of Science degree in Human Nutrition and Food Science from Washington State University. He recently finished a Masters of Science degree in Clinical Human Nutrition. He has written for various magazines and is the editor of The High Road to Health.