You’ve probably been led to believe that if you just drink enough milk, eat enough yogurt and cheese, get some broccoli and maybe take a calcium supplement, you will be assured of having healthy bones that are resistant to osteoporosis. Wrong! The truth is, if you’re not getting enough of another essential nutrient, potassium, you won’t get the benefit from all that calcium. Here’s how to make sure you get the amount of potassium you really need for healthy bones…
IT’S NOT ABOUT CALCIUM ANYMORE
With all the constant hoopla about calcium, you’d never guess that numerous studies have shown that potassium is just as important for bone health. So why does calcium get all the publicity? Maybe even doctors don’t realize how important potassium is…and maybe the supplement industry is just too hooked on its calcium profits to put the spotlight somewhere else. But the fact is, a lot of people who think they’re doing good for their bones are consuming too little potassium. And their bones are suffering for it.
Strong proof of the importance of potassium: Researchers recently analyzed 14 high-quality studies on the effects of potassium supplements on bone health and found that people who had higher intakes of potassium excreted less calcium in their urine and had markers in their blood that showed less bone loss. The reason? Potassium aids calcium absorption.
Thus, diets higher in potassium might be a way to improve bone strength and help prevent bone weakening and osteoporosis.
Potassium has been shown to slow down a process called bone resorption, which happens in our bodies all the time as a natural process. In the bone-resorption process, small cells called osteoclasts break down bone to make room for new bone growth. However, as we age, new bone formation slows down and can be outpaced by bone resorption. The result is thin and brittle bones that can easily fracture.
“A high intake of potassium has been shown to significantly reduce the excretion of calcium in the urine. Furthermore, potassium neutralizes the excess acid from the metabolism of a heavy meat-eating diet,” says nutrition and fitness expert Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RD, who advocates potassium not only for bone health but also for blood pressure control and is the author of the book Blood Pressure Down.
She recommends getting 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium a day, an amount in line with the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, which helps set US health policy. But she dissuades her clients from taking potassium supplements, saying that supplements do not deliver nutrition as efficiently as nutrition-rich food. Besides, potassium supplements can cause intestinal problems such as diarrhea, stomach upset and flatulence in some people.
And people on diuretics or other blood pressure medications and those with kidney disease need to be extra cautious about potassium supplementation. Certain diuretics, such as Aldactone, Midamor and Dyrenium, and many other blood pressure medications, such as Avapro, Cozaar, Diovan and Vasotec, and also NSAIDs, when taken with potassium supplements can lead to potassium excess in the body. This condition, called hyperkalemia, can cause symptoms of tingling extremities, muscle weakness or irregular heart beat that can result in cardiac arrest. If you’re taking any medication, particularly the ones mentioned above, it is strongly advised that you don’t take a potassium supplement without first consulting an MD or a naturopathic doctor.
FINDING POTASSIUM IN YOUR FOOD
So where does safe, natural potassium come from? “Think ‘P’ for potassium and produce,” Dr. Brill says. It’s that easy.
Of course not all produce is created equal. Some is more chock-full of potassium than others. In addition to the best-known potassium sources—bananas and white potatoes—Dr. Brill’s “hot list” of high-potassium foods includes spinach, kale, beet greens (and other dark, leafy green vegetables), cantaloupe, kidney beans and avocado. She also recommends low-sodium V-8 juice, a cup of which offers 820 mg of potassium. If you eat at least eight servings of such foods each day, you’ll be sure to reach your 4,700 mg of potassium quite easily.
And if you would like a mouthwatering, potassium-rich dinner recipe for inspiration, check out this salmon dish from Dr. Brill’s book Blood Pressure Down. It packs about 2,000 mg of potassium per serving…
Oven-Roasted Salmon with Potatoes and Tomatoes
This recipe serves four. The ingredients you’ll need are:
- Four 6-ounce salmon fillets (you can substitute cod, which contains about the same amount of potassium as salmon)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt-free seasoning blend
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds small red potatoes, washed and quartered
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- Juice of one lemon plus extra slices of lemon to squeeze to taste on the finished dish
- ¼ cup minced parsley
Preheat oven to 450°F. Drizzle the salmon with one tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.
On a rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt-free seasoning blend, pepper and the remaining two tablespoons olive oil. Turn cut sides of the potatoes down. Bake for about 20 minutes, just until the potatoes start to brown. Remove baking sheet from the oven. Add the tomatoes to the potatoes, and push them to the side to make room for the salmon fillets. Return the pan to the oven, and bake until the fish is cooked through and the potatoes are brown and tender…about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to plates, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and drizzle with lemon juice.