Potassium: A Mineral With Many Essential Roles

Posted by SoundHealth on Tuesday, June, 02 2009 and filed under Nutrition
Key topics: Minerals Potassium

Of all the essential minerals, potassium is probably the least understood by many, but it is absolutely essential for many reasons. It is needed to maintain the balance between acids and alkalis in all body fluids and cells- a balance that is vital for survival. Potassium also plays a key role in the transmission of nerve impulses throughout the body, and in the prevention of calcium being lost in the urine. The other major function of this mineral is to promote muscle activity and prevent cramp, the area most people associate potassium with.

Potassium, along with sodium and choloride are electrolytes. This means that they conduct electricity when dissolved in water, and these three minerals work closely togather in the body. About 95% of the potassium in the body is stored within cells, while sodium and chloride are predominantly located outside the cell.

Potassium is especially important in regulating the activity of muscles and nerves. The frequency and degree to which our muscles contract, and nerves are transmitted, both depend heavily on the presence of potassium in the right amount.

Potassium occurs naturally in a wide variety of foods. As a result, dietary deficiency of potassium is uncommon. However, a deficiency can occur if you experience excessive fluid loss, through vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, or blood loss. Lack of potassium can cause muscle weakness, cramp, mental confusion or depression. Excessive consumption of sodium in any form can also reduce potassium levels.

Food Sources

All fruits and vegetables contain potassium. Excellent sources of potassium include chard, spinach and bananas. Other good sources are fennel, kale, mustard greens, brussel sprouts, broccoli, squash, apricots, prunes, almonds and tomatoes.

However, potassium is lost from foods through cooking, for example boiling your vegetables halves their potassium content, as the mineral ends up in the cooking water. In the case of spinach, potassium levels have been shown to drop by about 56% after blanching for several minutes. Therefore try to minimize cooking time of vegetables, or eat them raw.

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