Winter squash has lots of potassium, something I was reminded of while researching an article I wrote the Healdsburg Farmers Market newsletter. One cup of baked winter squash has 900 mg of potassium! That is good news for all of us winter squash lovers.
A medium sized banana only has 450 mg, and is still considered a rich source of potassium. A cup of prune juice has 707 mg, and a cup of cubed cantaloupe or honeydew melon have close to 500 mg. So comparatively, the winter squash is a star.
Interesting, but why does potassium matter? Potassium has more impact on blood pressure than you might think. We all know that limiting salt (or more accurately sodium) helps keep blood pressure under control. But it is not as well known that getting adequate potassium is as important.
In the Stone Age, Paleolithic hunter-gatherers ate a diet that was high in potassium and low in sodium. Our kidneys evolved to keep electrolyte balance by excreting potassium and conserving sodium. This is a problem today when our diet is typically low in potassium and high in sodium.
How low in potassium are we? The goal is 4.7 grams (or 4700 milligrams) of potassium each day, and American men get approximately 2.9 – 3.2 grams per day and women get around 2.1 – 2.3 grams per day. So most of us get roughly half the amount we need for good health.
Because we don’t get enough potassium to balance out the sodium, the movement of sodium and water increases the pressure on our arteries. This impacts blood pressure over time. It is also possible that low potassium leads to pulling calcium from the bone and into the blood to maintain balance, which leads to osteoporosis.
Besides eating more winter squash, how can you boost your potassium level? The Institute of Medicine recommends 4700 milligrams per day, which you can get with 9 – 10 servings of fruits and vegetables.
Click here for a list of foods that are high in potassium. It is useful to know the high potassium foods, but mostly I think it is important to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. When aiming for the 9-10 servings suggested, keep in mind that generally ½ cup is a serving. So a cup of winter squash would count as two servings of vegetable.
In the meantime, enjoy potassium rich winter squash! My favorite way to cook it is to cut it into cubes, toss it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a little curry, and then bake it at 350 degrees for around an hour. It’s done when its soft.
I use butternut a lot because it is easy to peel with a vegetable peeler. But I also cook small squashes like acorn by cutting it in half and baking – then just scooping the soft flesh out of the skin. Delicata squash is one of my favorites because you can eat the skin.
Final note: there are a couple of cautions with potassium. People with renal disease have to limit their potassium, depending on the stage of disease. They know about it, because that is part of the renal diet. Another group needing to watch potassium is people taking some potassium-retaining mediations. But this group just needs to avoid potassium supplements – like use of salt substitutes. Fruits and vegetables are still good!
Find more nutrition information and my monthly newsletter on my website: http://healthyhabitscoach.com .