Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the number one reason people visit doctors’ offices, and more prescriptions are written for its treatment than for any other health problem. In addition to the use of prescription drugs, high blood pressure is also often treated by reducing or eliminating dietary sodium intake in the form of table salt (sodium chloride). Recently published research results indicate that combining an increase in dietary potassium intake with a reduction in sodium intake is probably the most important dietary decision (after excessive weight loss) that people can make to reduce cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension.
Studies reveal that in societies with diets rich in fruits and vegetables, only 1% of the population suffers from hypertension. By contrast, 33% of adults have hypertension in industrialized societies where the diet contains higher amounts of processed foods, which often contain added salt. The typical diet in the United States contains about twice the sodium and only half the 4,700 milligrams per day of potassium currently recommended by the American Heart Association. It may seem like taking a daily supplement is the only way to ensure a daily potassium intake of up to 4.7 grams, but this is not the case. Nature provides many potassium-rich foods such as squash, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, beans, bananas, apricots, prunes, melons, peaches, halibut, tuna, trout and low-fat dairy products. Specific examples of the potassium content of some dietary sources of potassium are given in the table below:
Banana, 1 medium – 422 mg
Sweet potato, 1 baked – 694 mg
White potato, 1 baked – 610mg
Navy beans, canned, 1/2 cup- 595mg
Plain Yogurt, Nonfat, 8 oz – 595 mg
Halibut, cooked, 3 oz – 490 mg
In addition to potassium, some studies have shown that the minerals magnesium and calcium may also have a positive influence on maintaining healthy blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables that provide potassium in the diet are also good sources of these two minerals. Therefore, the parental instructions traditionally given to children to “eat your fruits and vegetables and drink your milk” have been scientifically validated for all of us as a way to help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.