The #1 Nutrient to Help Reduce Blood Pressure, According to Dietitians

Eat more of this nutrient to help keep your ticker in tiptop shape.

By Adam Meyer
Published on August 28, 2023
Reviewed by Dietitian
Jessica Ball, M.S., RD

We have a high blood pressure issue on our hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly half of U.S. adults (48%) have high blood pressure. And it’s no secret that high blood pressure is inextricably linked to what you eat.

Fortunately, one nutrient plays a crucial role in reducing blood pressure and protecting your heart health: potassium. This essential mineral relaxes blood vessel walls, helping to lower blood pressure and keep your heart functioning smoothly.

What Is Potassium?

Potassium, a vital mineral and electrolyte, is the unsung hero of many bodily functions. Found in abundance within cells and body fluids, potassium plays a pivotal role in maintaining fluid balance, nerve impulses and muscle contractions. According to the National Institutes of Health, higher dietary potassium intake is associated with a significant decrease in blood pressure. However, this mineral’s health benefits may extend beyond blood pressure management. A 2018 research study published in Nutrition Today revealed that potassium may also aid in heart rhythm regulation, bone health and supporting healthy metabolism.

Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., RDN, a registered dietitian at Bucket List Tummy, tells EatingWell, “While many Americans tend to eat higher levels of sodium and lower levels of potassium in their diets (leading to higher blood pressure), reversing this way of eating and eating higher levels of potassium (and lower sodium levels) could help control blood pressure.”

Potassium and Sodium

Potassium and sodium are the dynamic duo of heart health. These two minerals and electrolytes work together to help maintain balanced blood pressure levels. While sodium can elevate blood pressure by encouraging water retention, potassium counteracts this effect by promoting sodium excretion through urine and relaxing blood vessel walls.

Unfortunately, the standard American diet tends to weigh heavily in favor of sodium, often leading to an overconsumption of this mineral. And conversely, potassium-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, fish and legumes rarely take centre stage at mealtime.

This leads to a bit of a nutritional mismatch, given that the recommended potassium to-sodium intake ratio is about 2-to-1, while research suggests most Americans’ average intake is closer to 1-to-2.

“Sodium and potassium are both electrolytes that help the body maintain fluid balance,” says Kelsey Kunik, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and intuitive eating dietitian at Graciously Nourished. “Too much sodium can pull water into the bloodstream, increasing the pressure on blood vessel walls. Eating more potassium can help reduce blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessel walls and helping the body excrete more sodium.”

6 Ways to Get More Potassium

It’s recommended that adults consume between 2,400 and 3,600 milligrams of potassium per day. Here are some simple ways to up your intake.

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

“Adding more fruits and veggies (fresh, canned or frozen) to meals can increase potassium intake,” says Schlichter. “While most people think of bananas, other foods like oranges, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apricots, kiwis, tomatoes, spinach and cantaloupe are also high in potassium.”

You can’t go wrong with upping your fruit and veggie intake when trying to increase your potassium intake and support your heart health. For example, one medium banana provides 422 mg of potassium, while a cup of cooked spinach offers a whopping 1,180 mg. These plant-based sources help regulate blood pressure and come with various other heart-healthy vitamins, minerals and fibre.

2. Add leafy greens to your meals.

Add more leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard to your meals, and your blood pressure will thank you. One cup of cooked Swiss chard delivers 961 mg of potassium. Incorporating these greens into your salads, omelets or smoothies can effortlessly boost your potassium intake.

“Leafy greens can be added to smoothies, stir-fries, rice bowls, salads, eggs and more, providing an easy way to up your potassium intake,” says Schlichter.

3. Leave the skin on your potatoes.

While most of us enjoy the starchy interior of potatoes, potato skin contains the majority of the potassium in the veg. One medium baked potato with the skin intact contains 952 mg of potassium.

“Potatoes are a great source of potassium, but removing the skin means removing a good portion of potassium,” says Schlichter.

4. Incorporate more smoothies into your diet.

“If you have difficulty eating enough fruits and vegetables, try drinking them in a smoothie,” advises Kunik. “Adding a medium frozen banana, 1 cup of milk and half an avocado to your favorite smoothie can give you 27% of your Daily Value for potassium.”

Blending fruits like bananas, oranges and berries with avocados, leafy greens and Greek yogurt will create a potassium-rich concoction that’s both refreshing and nourishing. A simple greens-and-fruit smoothie can provide a significant portion of your daily potassium needs. Plus, it’s a convenient and delicious way to keep your heart health in check.

5. Enjoy Greek yogurt as a heart-healthy snack.

With approximately 282 mg of potassium per 7-ounce serving, Greek yogurt is a creamy and versatile addition to your diet.

This cultured delight can contribute to your potassium intake and offers gut-friendly probiotics and protein, making it a well-rounded choice for supporting heart health. Opt for unsweetened varieties to limit added sugar. Instead, add things like fruit and honey or maple syrup at home to sweeten it to your liking and customize the flavors.

Schlichter tells us, “Greek yogurt is a great way to add potassium to your diet, as well as the bone-building nutrients calcium and vitamin D. Pair it with fruit or low-sugar granola for a balanced snack.”

6. Consume fatty fish regularly.

Fatty fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel contribute to maintaining your potassium levels and support cardiovascular health thanks to their high omega-3 fatty acid content. “One 6-ounce fillet of salmon has 23% of your Daily Value for potassium, making it an excellent source of potassium. If you don’t have the time or capacity to cook salmon at home, use canned salmon instead, which is still a great source of potassium, but much easier to make and eat with a busy schedule,” says Kunik.

The Bottom Line

With nearly half of U.S. adults grappling with high blood pressure, including the blood pressure-lowering nutrient potassium in your diet is important for supporting heart and blood vessel health. This essential mineral helps relax blood vessel walls, reducing blood pressure and nurturing cardiovascular well-being.

While curbing sodium is often associated with blood pressure management, potassium works synergistically with it to maintain fluid balance and help counteract any potential harm sodium can cause in excess. Incorporating more potassium-rich whole foods into your diet is essential for balancing blood pressure.