One of the minerals you hear most about is sodium. Sodium is not good for you in large doses. It affects your blood pressure and, by extension, your heart. But, what about potassium? Can it help your heart?
Sodium and Potassium
This is not a biochemistry lecture but we do need to understand the relationship between sodium and potassium in the body. They work together to form a pump in cell membranes. The inside of the cell loves potassium but there is often too much sodium inside. In order for the potassium ions to get in and the sodium to be moved out, energy (ATP, adenosine triphosphate) is used to fuel the pump. This pump maintains the balance between sodium and potassium in the body.
This pump keeps muscles working properly. One of those muscles is your heart. We often eat too much sodium in the form of salt which causes water retention in the body. You need more potassium to counteract the effects of sodium.
Increase Your Potassium
One way to keep the heart muscle healthy is to increase your intake of potassium so that there is more available for the cells. At the same time, you are decreasing your sodium intake.
According to experts, the human body needs no more than one teaspoon (2,300 milligrams) of salt a day. If you look at the labels on some of those pre-packaged frozen foods, there is more than that in some of them. Let’s not even talk about fast food. Burgers have thousands of milligrams of sodium.
One way to fuel the pump that keeps the big pump (your heart) working is to find other sources of potassium. We all know about bananas. Some runners eat bananas after exercise to avoid muscle cramps by increasing potassium stores.
But, that’s not the only way to find potassium. Potassium is also found in:
- Fruits: Berries, mango, oranges, cantaloupe, dates, and et cetera
- Vegetables: Sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, beets, lima beans, edamame
- Poultry: Chicken
- Fish: Salmon
Fish contain potassium but are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids dilate vessels to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation in the body and slow clotting. It is an added bonus that further helps to reduce the incidence of heart disease.
Potassium in the body works with sodium to maintain the cellular potential across all cell membranes especially in muscles and nerves. Increasing your potassium levels while lowering the amount of sodium you eat can lower blood pressure and keep the heart beating smoothly.
Hope you are enjoying the Healthy Heart Series.
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