Potassium foods are essential to our diet. If you’ve ever had a workout disrupted by severe cramping, you are not alone. One moment you’ll be feeling great, and the next moment you’ll experience pain so intense you have to stop what you are doing immediately. More than just an annoyance, muscle cramps are quite painful and may indicate dehydration or a potassium deficiency.
Diets with the right amount of potassium are important, and they are especially important for active people. The U.S. RDA (recommended daily allowance) of potassium is 2000 – 3500 mg/day.
Why is Potassium so Important?
Potassium is an electrolyte, or an ionized salt, that can become a charged particle in our bodies, therefore making it vital for efficient functions. It helps our bodily fluids maintain the delicate balance between acidity and basicity, or ph balance. Potassium and sodium work together across our cell membranes, helping us regulate muscle growth and contractions (remember, our heart is a big muscle). It is crucial for brain and neuron function, and it facilitates communication between our brains, nerves, and muscles. Potassium regulates heart beat, blood pressure, and aids digestion.
Potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia, can cause a host of health issues, so it’s important to maintain proper levels, especially when embarking upon a new activity program. Women with digestive issues should closely monitor their potassium levels because they can deplete easily during illness (which is why doctors advocate plenty of liquids and electrolytes when we’re sick).
Overall feelings of weakness, fatigue, and lack of muscle coordination are sure signs that you may have a potassium deficiency, but of course it is always prudent to check in with your doctor.
What are some good food sources? A medium-sized banana is a winner, because it’s a filling piece of fruit that is relatively low in calories and high in potassium. Several foods provide excellent sources of potassium, but remember to watch calories and sugar. Try some of these:
- Medium baked potato (with skin)
- Prunes (1/4 cup)
- Raisins (1/4 cup)
- 6 oz. prune juice
- 6-8 oz. orange juice
- Medium tomato
- Soy products
Avoid potassium supplements, as too much can also cause health issues, especially among diabetics and those with kidney problems. Too much potassium can also damage your heart. The best way for our bodies to receive potassium is naturally; our bodies absorb natural sources of potassium more efficiently than they do pills and supplements.