Bananas: A Delicious Way to Prevent Potassium Deficiency

| Jul 12, 2017

Despite their tropical origins, bananas are a fruit staple across the United States—Hawaii and Florida are just about the only places on American soil that permit their growth, but you’ll never have to go far to find this yellow delicacy, regardless of your state of residence.

It’s estimated that 96% of all Americans buy at least one banana each month, and the average American eats over twenty-eight pounds of bananas every year!

Luckily, bananas are one delicious treat that carry plenty of benefits. While you shouldn’t go overboard with banana consumption because of their high fructose content, there’s plenty of research to support the healthfulness of moderate consumption.

Stomach protection. Studies have found that the pectin, phosphatidylcholine, and flavonoids in bananas help protect the stomach’s gastric mucosa, and can be especially helpful for preventing or treating ulcers.[1] Unripe bananas work best in this capacity, so try to throw a slightly underripe banana in a smoothie at least every so often.

Natural antidepressant. Research demonstrates that, because bananas contain high levels of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin), they can serve as a dietary treatment for depression.[2]

Anti-hypertensive. Bananas have been shown to decrease blood pressure, and thus can play a helpful role in warding off hypertension and stroke.[3]

Feed your probiotics. Due to their high levels of both fiber and fructooligosaccharide (a prebiotic on which your gut flora loves to feed), bananas have been shown to support a healthy microbiome.[4]

Reduce cancer risk. One study demonstrated that bananas can reduce the risk of developing kidney cancer. While this affect was observed in the context of participants consuming a balanced diet rich in many different fruits and vegetables, the strongest preventative effect was observed with bananas.[5]

Potassium. Last but not least, bananas are an excellent source of potassium, a critical electrolyte and the third most abundant mineral in the body. A medium-size banana contains about 422 milligrams of potassium—about 10% of the recommended daily intake for adults. This is most likely the “banana benefit” about which you’ve heard the most hype.

Despite how much Americans love their bananas, though, potassium deficiency is still very common. Let’s take a look at why potassium is so important.

How to tell if you’re potassium-deficient (and what to do about it)

Potassium deficiency may not be one that you hear much about, but it can wreak havoc on many aspects of your health—and it’s actually quite common.

If you struggle with joint pain, fatigue, excessive stress and other signs of adrenal fatigue, impaired memory and concentration, and muscle weakness or spasms, your body probably doesn’t have as much potassium as it needs.

You’d be wise to address the deficiency as soon as possible, as it can lead to other, more serious health effects that are easy to miss until it’s too late, such as high blood pressure, compromised bone strength and formation, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke, kidney stones, and type 2 diabetes.[6]

You’re especially prone to potassium deficiency, and should be vigilant about preventing it if…

  • You recently experienced an illness that caused vomiting or diarrhea
  • You suffer from adrenal or kidney disorders (including temporary adrenal fatigue)
  • You have diabetes (especially if it’s uncontrolled)
  • You often take laxatives or diuretics (including excessive consumption of caffeinated beverages)
  • You consume a large amount of alcohol
  • You exercise more than 1-2 hours per day
  • You are on a low-calorie diet
  • You consume an excessive amount of salt

Let’s unpack the last bullet point, as it’s a hugely common lifestyle-centric cause of potassium deficiency.

Sodium and potassium fulfill similar functions in the body (such as muscle contraction and fluid balance), but in an opposing manner. For example, sodium brings fluid out of cells (increasing blood pressure) and potassium brings fluids into cells (decreasing blood pressure). Because they are inversely associated with one another, excess consumption of one leads to a corresponding increase in the excretion of the other.

Thus, excess salt consumption can lead your body to deplete itself of potassium. And since large quantities of sodium are added to nearly all processed foods, snacks, and other staples of the Standard American Diet, it’s no surprise that many people eat too much salt.

As we covered in another article, though, not all salt is created equal: using mineral-rich natural like Pink Himalayan salt instead of refined or iodized salt will have an entirely different effect on your health.

Making this shift is a great way to begin overcoming potassium deficiency, but you’ll need to follow it up with some other important dietary changes. Once you remove those nasty, over-salted processed foods, you’ll want to replace them with potassium-rich whole foods.

Bananas obviously top that list, as do lima beans, white beans, salmon, avocados, sweet potato, broccoli, peas, and grapefruit. Potassium supplements can be helpful in dire circumstances, but most people do just fine as long as they include lots of these foods in their diet.

 


References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3719258/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/

[3] www.pubmedhouse.com/journals/ms/articles/PMHID1049full.html

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705355/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15455348

[6] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM196102162640706

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