Potassium is a simple mineral with a crucial job: helping your heart beat. A hundred thousand times a day, potassium helps trigger your heart's squeeze of blood through your body.
If you have high blood pressure, heart failure, or heart rhythm problems, getting enough potassium is especially important. Although potassium and cholesterol aren't directly related, eating a potassium-rich diet just might lower your cholesterol, too.
Most of the time, you’re probably blissfully unaware of your heart's ceaseless activity -- nearly 100,000 beats per day, or about 37 million beats per year and 3 billion in an average lifetime.
But not always. Maybe your pulse suddenly races for no apparent reason. Maybe your heart throbs. Maybe it flutters or seems to skip a beat. When it does, you wonder: Is this normal?
That can be a tricky question, especially if you don't know the facts about heart rate and rhythm. Here are five common myths...
Potassium exists in abundance in soil and seawater. A healthy amount of potassium is essential to all plant and animal life. A critical electrolyte, potassium allows our muscles to move, our nerves to fire, and our kidneys to filter blood. The right balance of potassium literally allows the heart to beat.
Most people get plenty of potassium just by eating a normal American diet. The main source of potassium in our food is fruits and vegetables. Dairy products, whole grains, meat, and fish also provide potassium.
Excellent sources of potassium include:
Fresh fruits (bananas, oranges, and strawberries)
Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, and dates)
Beans and peas
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the best way to get enough potassium. You'll also get the other benefits of a high fruits-and-veggies diet. Those include:
In healthy amounts, potassium is a heart-friendly mineral. Potassium doesn't treat or prevent heart disease, but studies have shown that getting enough potassium benefits the heart in several important ways.
Potassium and high blood pressure
In one major study of people with high blood pressure, taking potassium supplements reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) by about 8 points.
But you don’t have to pop potassium pills to get the heart-healthy benefits. A diet high in fruits and vegetables (good sources of potassium) and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods can help lower systolic blood pressure by more than 10 points in people with hypertension.
Potassium and high cholesterol
A direct link between potassium and cholesterol hasn't been established. But it's interesting that many diets proven to lower cholesterol are also high in potassium.
If you have abnormal cholesterol levels, you're at higher than average risk for heart disease. The same goes for anyone with any of the other risk factors for atherosclerosis:
High blood pressure
Age over 55 for men or 65 for women
Lack of exercise
Taking potassium isn't known to reduce the risk of heart attacks. But by making sure you're taking in enough potassium, you'll probably end up eating more fruits and vegetables. A healthy diet -- high in fruits and veggies and low in saturated fat and cholesterol -- can help cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.