It’s the most popular nutrient in the human body, but what exactly is it?
Potassium is one of the basic building blocks of the body, the stuff that makes bones and teeth grow, keeps your blood circulating and your heart pumping, and protects your brain and nervous system.
Now, scientists are figuring out how much of the food we eat is making you gain too much potassium, and how that affects your health.
In fact, the body uses a little less potassium than you might think, especially if you’re eating more processed food and/or taking more medication, the American Heart Association reports.
Here’s how it works.
When your body needs more potassium, it releases the hormone prostaglandins, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems.
But, according to a study published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the hormone levels are not related to how much you consume.
The study, led by the University of Rochester Medical Center, found that if you consume enough potassium to make up for the extra calories, you will not gain enough.
Instead, your potassium levels will rise.
It’s this effect that researchers are calling the “calorie-busting effect.”
“You’re actually just trying to keep the calories low, and keeping the potassium levels high, and you’re actually creating a metabolic advantage,” says senior author Dr. William G. Hickey, a professor of clinical nutrition at the University at Albany.
So, how much potassium do you need?
According to the study, if you eat the average American a couple of cups of rice a day, you should get about 20 milligrams of potassium a day.
For people who consume a lot of processed foods, the amount is closer to 100 milligram.
But you don’t need to be a superfood to get enough potassium, says study coauthor Dr. John C. Reitz, a physician in the division of cardiology and medical director of the division’s nutritional lab.
“People who eat a lot processed foods are just overdoing it,” he says.
You may think you’re consuming too much, but the fact is that most of the foods you eat have little to no potassium in them.
It has nothing to do with how much fat, sugar, and salt you consume or what protein you’re getting in your meals.
The American Heart Journal reports that more than 95% of the potassium we get from our foods comes from the amount of potassium found in fruits and vegetables.
The amount of vitamin K we absorb from the foods we eat also comes from fruits and other foods, not from the processed ones we eat.
“If we’re really eating a lot, our bodies are trying to maximize our energy and get enough of the nutrient to make sure we’re not getting too little, which is what we’re doing with a lot,” says Hickey.
That’s why it’s so important to eat potassium-rich foods.
You can get enough from consuming whole fruits and veggies, as well as the leafy greens that are the star of our salad and soups.
But what about those foods with more than one potassium-containing food?
The American Journal says that if they contain a lot more potassium than the average, your body may release the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and strokes.
It also may increase the risk of certain cancers, including breast and prostate.
There’s also a potential relationship between eating high-potassium foods and a higher risk of cancer, although the study doesn’t look at that specifically.
The good news is that potassium-fortified foods don’t have to be super-heavy.
The Daily Mail reports that you can eat a cup of whole grains, beans, and other legumes like kale and spinach, along with other vegetables and fruits that contain a little bit of potassium.
But there’s also room for experimenting with different types of foods to see what works best for you.
The article also points out that if your diet is high in processed foods like fast food and packaged food, your intake of potassium is likely to be low.
That includes all the processed foods you’re used to eating at the grocery store, but also more refined foods like breads, crackers, pasta sauces, and soupy foods like brownies.
In the end, you’ll need to weigh your choices carefully, Hickey says.
“The best thing is to make your own choices, so you can really do your own research on what you’re looking for in your diet and what your overall health is,” he said.
What to look for in a healthy diet for your body and soul: What you eat may be important, but it won’t make or break your health, the study found.
“When you have a really good diet, there’s nothing you can do to really affect your health,” Hickey