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Eat potassium-rich foods to stay strong

Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


Staying strong as we age requires remaining physically active, especially focusing on strengthening our muscles. Staying strong also means eating well to sustain and build muscle tissue. In this case, that means getting enough potassium.

Science has long known that potassium is needed for muscle control. In recent studies done at Tufts University’s Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, they also found that including potassium-rich fruits and vegetables in one’s eating plan has beneficial effects on muscle. More specifically, older adults need potassium-rich fruits and vegetables that produce an alkaline rather than an acidic residue.

Many of the foods we eat – protein foods and cereal grains, for example – produce acidic residues in our bodies. With aging, many people slowly build up these small acid residues resulting in mild acidosis. This condition seems to trigger a muscle-wasting response, according to the researchers. But this process, they say, may be counteracted by eating alkaline-producing plant foods high in potassium. Their research showed that those “whose diets were rich in potassium averaged 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass [or muscle] than those with only half the potassium intake. That almost offsets the 4.4 pounds of lean tissue typically lost in a decade in healthy men and women age 65 and above.”

Bananas are the most familiar potassium-rich food. Some other examples of rich sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beet greens, potatoes, white beans, prunes, soybeans, lima beans, winter squash, spinach, peaches, apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, lentils, plantains and kidney beans.

The USDA recommends that older adults get at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily. One medium sweet potato baked in the skin without salt has 542 mg of potassium. An 8- to 9-inch banana has 487 mg. A cup of lima beans, boiled with salt, has 955 mg. A medium baked potato with the skin has 926 mg of potassium. So, there are lots of delicious ways to get what we need.



Potassium-rich Produce Helps You Stay Strong as You Get Older, Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. August, 2008; 26:6:1

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference,


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