The significance of potassium is often taken very lightly. We come across information regarding the usefulness of protein, calcium, iron, but we often neglect potassium and its importance. Potassium is classified as an electrolyte due to how it reacts in water. Upon dissolving in water, potassium produces positively charged ions. Thanks to such property, potassium can conduct electricity throughout the body for many vital processes.
Furthermore, the health benefits of consuming a potassium-rich diet are important, not only for you but for creating a better diet for your family as well. When you consume sufficient potassium, your blood pressure and water retention are reduced. Additionally, this mineral is beneficial for preventing severe conditions like osteoporosis, kidney stones, and even strokes. The third most plentiful mineral in our bodies is potassium and it is responsible for multiple processes like sending nerve signals, maintaining fluid balance, and regulating muscle contractions. This information alone must suffice in convincing you that potassium is crucial, and you need to re-check your diet habits if you want to remain healthy.
Unfortunately, it can be quite common for people to not take potassium-rich diets and suffer from potassium deficiency due to medical reasons. To ensure that the diet aids you stay optimally healthy, consider adding more whole foods to your diet. This is nothing to be scared about if you’re living a vegan lifestyle and are worried about not getting enough potassium. Veganism is strictly against consuming any meat/dairy/other animal products, but there are many everyday foods that vegans can consume. Some common and delicious food items like green salad, peanut butter sandwiches, chips, spaghetti, and other foods without any animal products are usual parts of a vegan diet. Thankfully, the consumption of potassium-rich whole foods is encouraged by veganism.
How to Get Enough Potassium as a Vegan?
Vegan-friendly potassium sources include leafy greens like collards and spinach, root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, fruits like grapes and blackberries from vines and citrus fruits like grapefruit and oranges. These food items are easily found, and can be included as a part of vegetarian and vegan diets. The best potassium source includes foods like soy beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, tempeh, and lentils. Sweet potatoes, dried fruits like figs and apricots, butternut, avocado, broccoli, and banana are other excellent potassium sources.
As one of the seven crucial macro-minerals in the body, you must consume enough potassium -especially since processed foods tend to be high in sodium, which needs to be canceled by potassium intake. This way, you’ll be saved from the harmful effects of a sodium-rich diet.
For getting adequate potassium, you can consume more beet greens (cooked, boiled, or drained) without any salt, canned white beans, lima beans without salt, soybeans without salt, sliced avocado, boiled mushrooms without any salt, raw red tomatoes, baked sweet potato, and raw cantaloupe melon.
Over-the-counter supplements for potassium are generally discouraged, and many food authorities impose a limit of potassium supplements. The amount of potassium you’ll get from supplements will be far lesser than the natural way you could increase your intake through a potassium-rich diet. For people who do not consume sources of potassium like salmon, eating fruits and vegetables is crucial. The daily potassium intake should be in the range of 3,500-4,700 mg. and eating the healthy foods like mentioned above for increasing your potassium intake will be sufficient.
Health Benefits of Potassium
To begin with, potassium is an electrolyte that cancels the effect of sodium, maintaining consistent blood pressure. It further supports the balance of acids and bases. Other proven health benefits of potassium include:
Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health
High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are very commonly associated with low potassium intake. A low sodium intake, along with the recommended potassium consumption is vital for lowering your blood pressure. The combination of increased potassium intake with decreased sodium is also essential for protecting one from cardiovascular disease.
Muscle and Bone Maintenance
Potassium is responsible for maintaining an alkaline environment in the body. Unfortunately, the Western diet is linked with acidosis, resulting from acidifying foods like dairy products, meat, and processed cereal grains. These foods are very common in a western diet, and the resultant acidosis may be the root of nitrogen excretion, muscle wasting, and loss in bone mineral density. A potassium-rich diet can be extremely helpful in the preservation of muscle mass in the older population.
The deficiency of potassium is called hypokalemia, and it can cause multiple health problems. There is a range of symptoms indicating potassium deficiency. The standard level of potassium has been defined as between 3.5 millimoles per liter and 5 millimoles per liter. When the levels are lower than 3.5 mmol/L, it can be diagnosed as hypokalemia. The severity of symptoms increases as the levels fall lower.
When an individual has low potassium levels, common symptoms that they can experience include fatigue and malaise, muscle pain throughout the body, weakness, and constipation. Extreme cases of deficiency can present through symptoms like severe muscle weakness, paralysis, painful obstructions in the gut, respiratory failure, sensations like tingling, crawling, numbness, and itching in the hands, legs, feet, and arms, and intermittent muscle spasms. Diagnosis of low potassium can be done with the help of blood tests, and treatment would include changes in the diet. Prescription based potassium supplements also help in maintaining the potassium levels in the body. One should regularly get their medical check-ups done to track if there is any risk of potassium deficiency, and make alterations to their diet accordingly.
The unfortunate thing is that potassium consumption among most of the adults is meager, and the Western diet may be held responsible for it. Since processed foods are more favored here, many people do not get enough potassium. But it’s not identical to having a potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia. On the contrary, a low-potassium diet is not the common reason behind potassium deficiency. The usual culprit includes conditions where there is an excessive loss of potassium from the body. Conditions like chronic diarrhea or vomiting may lead to the development of a potassium deficiency.
Too Much Potassium
It is a crucial mineral for the body but is not the key to healthy living on its own. The solution to the optimum health level includes a well-balanced diet and healthy eating patterns. Excessive consumption of potassium may result in harmful effects, especially for people with kidney issues. Hyperkalemia can be the result of taking in too much potassium, and it can be severely dangerous.
High potassium levels lie between 5.1 and 6.0 mmol/L and require monitoring. Any level above 6.0 mmol/L is hazardous. Caution must be taken because symptoms of hyperkalemia present rarely. The symptoms of both hyperkalemia and hypokalemia are common, and sudden hyperkalemia can lead to heart palpitation, chest pain, and shortness of breath. If an individual reaches such a stage, urgent medical attention is required, since this level can be life-threatening.