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Potassium and Its Benefits

Susan M. Keenan

Potassium is a mineral that is found naturally in many foods. This mineral is necessary for the proper functioning of the body's basic processes. In order for the body to function properly, it must have sufficient levels of potassium, generally found in a well-balanced diet.

Concentrated levels of potassium inside the body's cells are greater than the amount of potassium outside the cells. These levels must be kept stable for the body's processes to work properly. Potassium is helpful in keeping the balance of fluids and electrolytes stable in the body's cells.

Muscle contractions are also aided by the presence of potassium. In addition, a sufficient supply of potassium is necessary to release the energy used by the body for all of its processes from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. This process occurs during metabolism. Since the body uses energy for every process, this is extremely important.

Several studies have indicated that individuals with higher levels of potassium intake may have lower blood pressure. Results also indicated that the benefits were greater for individuals with a higher intake of salt. Studies have also indicated that individuals, who are potassium deficient, are more likely to develop kidney stones.

Individuals with extremely low potassium levels may develop what is known as hypokalemia. Hypokalemia is a disease in which the level of potassium in the plasma, or liquid part of the blood, is deficient. This condition may arise from several different circumstances. Prolonged vomiting or various forms of kidney disease may lead to hypokalemia. Extreme use of diuretics can also encourage this condition to develop.

Symptoms of this disease may include fatigue or extreme tiredness. The intestinal function may also be affected leading to constipation, bloating, and even abdominal cramping or pain. Extremely advanced cases of potassium loss with hypokalemia can lead to life threatening events, such as heart arrhythmias.

Foods containing small amounts of potassium need to be eaten more frequently or in greater quantities to provide a sufficient amount of potassium. Most people between the ages of 19 and 50 receive sufficient amounts of potassium through their diet to meet the daily-required minimum.

A dietary plan that incorporates a varied quantity of fruits and vegetables will produce a diet high in potassium-rich foods. Several fruits provide good amounts of potassium, including bananas, apricots, peaches, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, pears, raisins, and prunes. Vegetables, also, provide potassium including potatoes, peas, mushrooms, artichokes, tomatoes, spinach, and corn. Meat, fish, and poultry are also good sources of potassium.

Since cooking may reduce the amount of potassium in any given food, it is important to remember several things. First, try to include the raw form of vegetables and fruits whenever possible. Next, use the least amount of water possible when cooking. Finally, do not overcook, but cook for the shortest amount of time possible.

If you are considering increasing the level of potassium in your diet, consult your physician first. Additionally, any change in diet should be included at a moderate pace.


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