When I do research on lowering blood pressure, one of the most effective solutions I find is through nutrition. Therefore, can you lower blood pressure by eating more leafy greens or dried apricots? Yes, because they are high in potassium, and consuming potassium to lower blood pressure is highly effective.
Because potassium is so effective in lowering blood pressure it always brings me to the nutritionist’s office at work to discuss strategy. Everyone knows that bananas are high in potassium, but did you know it’s not even in the top 5 foods high in potassium? Things like that will drive you bananas 🙂 In fact, bananas are not even in the top 10 foods high in potassium.
Why is potassium so important in lowering blood pressure? There are 2 ways potassium can help lower blood pressure. The first is important because maintaining the potassium to sodium ratio of 4:1 will help lower your blood pressure. The second is how potassium alone helps your blood vessels. In this blog post, I’ll explain both ways to you and how the 4:1 ratio affects your kidneys and fluid retention. In addition, the amounts of potassium and sodium you need to maintain the ratio and the highly effective foods to keep your blood pressure low.
How Potassium Lowers Blood Pressure
The potassium to sodium ratio is a delicate balance that your body needs to help lower blood pressure. Why is it important and how does it lower blood pressure? Your kidneys help control the amount of fluid stored in your body. The kidneys filter your blood and removes excess wastes and any excess fluid. The excess fluid and wastes make your urine. The urine flows from the kidneys to your bladder where it’s temporarily stored before existing your body.
Fun Fact: Healthy kidneys filter about a half cup of blood every minute totaling about 150 quarts a day.
Your kidneys maintain a healthy balance of salts, water and minerals like calcium, phosphorous, sodium and potassium. Without this healthy balance, the tissues in your body, muscles and nerves may not work efficiently. The kidneys also make hormones that help control blood pressure and make red blood cells (resource).
The proper amount of potassium in your body lessens the effects of sodium. The more potassium you consume, the more sodium your body will lose. By consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water. If you have too much sodium, your body will hold onto extra water to help dilute the sodium. This increases the amount of fluid around your cells and the volume of blood in your bloodstream. The extra volume of blood makes the heart work harder and increases the pressure on your blood vessels. Over time, the extra stress can stiffen your blood vessels causing another reason for high blood pressure.
Also, potassium helps to relax your blood vessel walls, which helps lower your blood pressure even more. According to Harvard Health (resource), a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure. In addition, if you already have high blood pressure, increasing your potassium intake can lower systolic blood pressure.
How Much Potassium And Sodium Do I Need To Maintain The 4:1 Ratio?
Now you know that proper amounts of potassium and sodium affect fluid retention and blood pressure, exactly how much of each do you need? Your body needs sodium to maintain the proper balance of minerals and water. Sodium also helps your body contract and relaxes muscles and conduct nerve impulses. The problem with sodium is too many people consume too much of it. The average person consumes 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day. The sodium recommendation does not include athletes or people who have jobs where they sweat all day.
The daily recommended amount of potassium is 4,700 milligrams per day (resource). Unlike sodium, most Americans are not getting enough potassium. The average person is getting about half of that amount. A combination of not enough potassium and too much sodium really throws the potassium to sodium ratio out of balance. In fact, most people are actually consuming more sodium that potassium.
For sodium, the American Heart Association recommends an upper limit of 2,300 milligrams per day and an ideal amount of 1,500 milligrams per day for men and women 14 years of age and older. They say for people with high blood pressure, even cutting the amount to 1,000 mg a day can lower blood pressure. Therefore, the 4:1 ratio is approximate with 4,700 mg of potassium and about 1,250 mg of sodium.
Top Potassium Foods To Lower Blood Pressure
I’m unsure about you, but 4,700 mg of potassium a day is not an easy amount for me to consume. The banana, mostly known for potassium, only contains about 422 mg. That amount doesn’t put the banana into the top 10 list. What are the top 10 foods high in potassium? The top 10 foods high in potassium are:
- Lima Beans
- Swiss Chard
- Acorn Squash
- Sweet Potato
- Wild Caught Salmon
- Dried Apricots
- Coconut Water
An easy morning hack to help increase your potassium level is adding one teaspoon of cream of tartar to a glass of water. Or if you’re already drinking lemon water or apple cider vinegar, you can add it to that drink. Adding cream of tartar adds about 495 mg of potassium and helps you get to the 4,700 amount faster.
Most mornings I’ll have the cream of tartar drink with a morning banana. I’ll make a spinach omelette with half an avocado on the side. This quick, easy combination of potassium high foods gives me about a 1,500 mg head start at breakfast.
Avoid These Foods High In Sodium To Help Lower Blood Pressure And Maintain The Potassium To Sodium Ratio
It doesn’t take long to compile a list of foods high in sodium. I just released a blog post about 25 foods to avoid with high blood pressure. Many of these foods made the list because of their sodium, sugar or saturated fat content. You’ll be surprised at some of the foods you probably eat daily that made the list. You can read the blog post by clicking here. The following foods should be avoided because of their high sodium content which makes it harder to maintain the potassium to sodium ratio to lower blood pressure.
Take Out Chinese Food: Take out Chinese tastes great and it’s the perfect food to pick up after work to take home. Especially on a hot summer night when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen. Some orders contain 3,000 to 4,000 mg of sodium.
Ketchup: I used to think that I could add as much ketchup as I wanted and it didn’t matter. Did you know one tablespoon contains 150 mg of sodium? I know 150 mg isn’t much, but when was the last time you added only 1 tablespoon of ketchup to anything?
Canned Beans: Depending on the brand, one can of beans can contain about 1,800 mg of sodium.
Bottled Tomato Sauce/Canned Tomatoes: One serving of jar sauce has about 480 mg of sodium. Add in the cheese, table salt or bread and the sodium level adds up really fast.
Pickles: Just like ketchup, this is another food that I thought I could eat a lot of and be healthy. Some average size pickles have about 800 mg of sodium.
Frozen Pizza: Another great food to make after a long day at work. Check the label because some servings of frozen pizza can have about 800 mg of sodium.
Canned Soup: Are you starting to see a pattern with canned products? An average can of soup can have between 1,600 -2,000 mg of sodium. That’s more than a whole days worth in one sitting, and it doesn’t even fill you up.
Processed Meats: Processed meats like bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs and salami have a lot of sodium chloride.
Fast Foods: There is one fast food burger that contains almost 1,800 mg of sodium. Adding in salted french fries, and you easily surpass your daily total in only 20 minutes.
Restaurant Desserts: Many of the popular desserts dishes are loaded with sodium.
Table Salt: Keep that salt shaker in the cabinet. Because of the high sodium levels in most foods, there is no reason to shake more of it on your food. 1/4 teaspoon of salt contains 575 mg of sodium.
Table salt is approximately 40% sodium. To help you control your sodium intake, the following teaspoon amounts shows how much sodium they contain:
- 1/4 teaspoon of table salt = 575 mg of sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon of table salt = 1,150 mg of sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon of table salt = 1,725 mg of sodium
- 1 teaspoon of table salt = 2,300 mg of sodium
Cutting back on sodium doesn’t have to make your food boring. There are plenty of salt alternatives that taste great. The following are some herbs, spices and flavorings that can be used and the foods that they are a good match for.
- Basil: Fish, lean ground meat, salads, soups, sauces.
- Chives: Sauces, soups, vegetables, salads.
- Cider Vinegar: Salads, vegetables, sauces.
- Cinnamon: Breads and fruits.
- Garlic: Lean meats, soups, fish, salads, vegetables, potatoes.
- Lemon juice: Lean meats, fish, salads, poultry.
- Dry Mustard: All meats, vegetables, sauces.
- Nutmeg: Meats, potatoes, fruits.
- Onion Powder: Meats, vegetables, soups, salads.
- Paprika: Meats, soups, salads, vegetables.
- Turmeric: Meats, fish, rice, sauces.
Symptoms Of Low Potassium Levels
A national survey concluded approximately 98% of Americans wasn’t meeting the daily recommended amount of potassium (resource). The diets are the likely culprit which consists of mainly processed foods. Potassium is something you won’t get a lot of eating canned foods like you would if you were eating fruits and vegetables.
Having low potassium levels means you may have hypokalemia. Potassium is needed for many things other than lowering blood pressure. It helps your muscles move and for your cells to get the proper nutrients so they can send their signals. Hypokalemia is rarely caused by lack of nutrition but it can occur. Typically you get it when your body loses a lot of fluid from excessive sweating, vomiting, blood loss or diarrhea. Certain medications, underlying illness or deficiencies can cause hypokalemia.
The following are signs and symptoms of a potassium deficiency (resource):
Weakness: Usually the first signs of a potassium deficiency. You can feel weak because when your potassium is low it’s harder for your muscles to contract.
Fatigue: The body’s inability to handle nutrients effectively can lead to tiredness.
Muscle Cramps: Potassium plays a role in starting and stopping muscle contractions. Low potassium levels can cause prolonged contractions known as cramps.
Digestion Problems: Low potassium affects how the brain sends signals to the digestive tract affecting contractions. The digestive system cannot move and churn food resulting in bloating and constipation.
Muscle Aches: Low potassium levels can cause your blood vessels to contract and restrict blood flow.
Heart Palpitations: Because potassium helps to regulate the heartbeat, low levels can cause palpitations.
Shortness Of Breath: Potassium helps relay signals that help the lungs expand and contract. A lack of potassium can affect the lungs resulting in a shortness of breath.
Avoid Excess Potassium While Trying To Lower Blood Pressure
Have you ever heard someone say that too much of a good thing may not be good for you? When it comes to increasing potassium to lower blood pressure, this saying is true especially if you have kidney disease. Healthy kidneys will filter out excess potassium and remove it from your body through urine. If your kidneys are not functioning properly, potassium can build up to harmful levels in your blood (resource).
Certain medications can cause excess potassium by not allowing your kidneys to remove enough potassium. Other ways potassium can build to dangerous levels are taking certain supplements, poorly controlled diabetes or experiencing a serious injury or severe burn.
Typically, people with high potassium levels don’t experience any symptoms. If there are symptoms, they are usually mild and can include muscle weakness, nausea or numbness and tingling. High potassium levels normally develop slowly but there are times when it can occur suddenly. A sudden increase can cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath, vomiting or chest pain.
If you are at risk or think you have high potassium levels, a simple way to find out is through a simple blood test. A normal potassium level in the blood is 3.5-5.0 mEq/L. A level above 7 mEq/L would indicate severe hyperkalemia and require immediate medical attention.
If you have any kind of kidney disorder, be guided by your physician about proper treatments and the right amount of potassium you should be taking in every day. If you don’t have a doctor or health plan, you may want to take a look at the health plan service I recommend. They can find you an affordable plan that is right for you. Check out my blog post about it right here.
Is there potassium in coffee? There are 116 milligrams of potassium in an 8-ounce cup of black coffee. This is considered a low potassium food. However, if you drink three to four cups a day or add creamers or milk, the potassium levels will increase drastically.
Is barley high in potassium? Barley is high in potassium and considered a high potassium food. One cup of hulled barley contains 832 milligrams of potassium. It’s also high in magnesium and calcium making it a great food to lower blood pressure.
What causes high potassium levels in diabetics? There are 2 reasons diabetics can have high potassium. Ketoacidosis and high glucose levels in the blood work together to cause the potassium to move out of the cells and into the blood. In addition, people with diabetes often have diminished kidney capacity to excrete potassium into urine.
If you found this Blood Pressure topic interesting check out these related blood pressure articles also found in this same website:
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