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Why Health Officials Want You To Eat More Potassium

NPR icon by Allison Aubrey
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It's a real bummer to be told to eat less of something. Especially when it's salt, the ubiquitous ingredient that seems to make everything taste a little better.

So I won't waste too much of your time telling you that — once again — health authorities are urging us to cut back on sodium. The World Health Organization's latest guidance recommends no more than 2,000 mg per day, which is a lot less than the 3,300 mg the typical American consumes. (Not to mention children in the U.S.)

So, with the tsk-tsking out of the way, let's focus on something we should be adding more of to our diet: potassium. By amping up consumption of potassium-rich foods, public health officials say, we can cut the risk of high blood pressure — which may, in turn, lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

So what foods can we eat more of to meet the WHO's recommendation of getting 3,510 mg of potassium per day?

Beans and peas are at the top of the list, with up to 1,200 mg of potassium per cup. And vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage and parsley are potassium-rich. Fruits like bananas, papayas and dates are also good options.

This USDA chart is handy if you're looking to pack in some potassium on the go. According to USDA estimates, a cup of trail mix with nuts and seed provides about 950 mg of potassium. And a cup of raisins has about 1,000 mg of potassium.

"Elevated blood pressure is a major risk for heart disease and stroke — the number one cause of death and disability globally," wrote Dr. Francesco Branca, director of WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, in a release announcing the new potassium and salt guidance.

Children should be eating more potassium, too, according to the recent guidelines — though WHO stopped short of making actual recommendations, leaving it up to individual nations to set their own pediatric standards. Branca says this is critical, "because children with elevated blood pressure often become adults with elevated blood pressure."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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