Earn ‘bonus points’ for calcium and potassium

by Laurie Gorton
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Americans eat an excess of sodium, estimated to be more than 3,400 mg per day, but they don’t get enough potassium or calcium. When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported its recommendations, it described potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D as “nutrients of concern” because they are so underconsumed.

Less than 3% of the populace gets enough potassium to meet the adequate intake (AI) level of 4,700 mg per day. As for calcium, except for young children, the majority of the US population does not meet the AI, set at 1,200 mg per day for most adults.

Calcium is well-known for its positive benefits to growing children, and awareness is emerging about its importance to heart health and reducing the risk of breast cancer. Potassium, however, is less commonly recognized. Potassium assists in muscle contraction, maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance in cells, transmitting nerve impulses and releasing energy during metabolism. Diets rich in potassium help lower blood pressure, blunt the adverse effect of salt on blood pressure, may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and may decrease bone loss.

Specifically, the dietary guidelines committee’s report stated, “Increased potassium consumption modifies systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Approximately 57% of adults living in the US have prehypertension or hypertension, and many more have inadequate dietary intake of potassium. Thus, potassium is a nutrient of public health significance.”

Sodium, too, was deemed a nutrient of concern — but for the reason that it is so overconsumed.

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