There's a quiet revolution unfolding inside the boxes, bags, cans and bottles on supermarket shelves. Food-makers are trimming the blood-pressure-boosting sodium in some of their saltiest and most popular processed foods by as much as 33 percent. That's great news, but don't let headlines about this sodium-slashing success story stop you from taking another important step toward better blood pressure: upping your potassium intake.
Potassium may be the missing mystery mineral in your own better-blood-pressure equation. Just one in 50 Americans gets enough of this good stuff, found in abundance in almost all produce, dairy products and beans. Potassium actively lowers blood pressure, in large part by buffering salt's efforts to jack it up. Every 600-milligram increase in the amount of potassium you eat every day (that's less than a cup of cooked spinach) lowers your BP by one point. Wow! And that's not all it does: It also helps with nerve functioning and muscle control (athletes may need extra -- say, from a glass of fresh orange juice or a banana -- after workouts).
But the scary news for the 30 percent of Americans with high blood pressure (and the additional 30 percent with prehypertension) is that most of us get twice as much sodium as potassium. A healthy balance between these two minerals should go the other way, with two to five times more potassium than sodium! Righting the balance is not so hard to do, and it could help you live longer. No wonder the World Health Organization recently called for a global increase in potassium intake. Here are six strategies to help you do that naturally:
» Feast on leafy greens more often. Why not every day? Swiss chard and spinach are potassium all-stars, with one cup of cooked greens delivering more than 800 milligrams -- one-sixth of the 4,700 milligrams you need daily. Cooked kale, cabbage, beet, mustard and turnip greens are also terrific sources, with about 300 milligrams per cup.
» Keep potassium-boosters in the freezer. Stock up on bags of convenient, no-waste, frozen chopped kale, collards, mustard greens and spinach (plain, without added sauces or sodium). We love them. You'll never find wilted, slimy, oops-I-forgot-about-these greens languishing in the back of the fridge!
» And in your cupboard. Dried beans are another super source of potassium, with about 600 milligrams per cup when cooked. No time to cook beans from scratch? Stockpile sodium-free canned beans in your pantry. Toss them into soups and stews, or microwave with a handful of frozen greens for a quick and healthy lunch.
» Dive into spinach or romaine salad. While cooked spinach (steamed or boiled), added to soup or sauteed with olive oil and garlic, delivers a blood-pressure-pleasing percentage of your daily potassium requirement, going raw delivers an even bigger dose. Cooking can reduce levels of this mineral significantly; just blanching 3 1/2 ounces of spinach for a few minutes drops potassium levels 56 percent. So, opt for a salad made with spinach or potassium-rich romaine lettuce. Top those raw greens with potassium-rich tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, celery and bell peppers. And keep your potassium-sodium ratio in balance by dressing your salad with oil and vinegar rather than a salty bottled dressing.
» Enjoy an old-fashioned baked potato. A medium-size baked white potato -- if you eat the skin -- nourishes you with 751 grams of potassium. To keep calories and fat in line, skip butter and sour cream, and try topping your tater with a dollop of Greek yogurt, or use a splash of flavorful balsamic vinegar on your potato. Add a generous sprinkle of black pepper, and dive in. (If you're at a restaurant, order a baked spud instead of fries or mashed.)
» Sneak in these seasonings and natural sweets. Spice things up with ginger and turmeric -- both contain pressure-pampering potassium. How about a fruit salad made with potassium-rich strawberries, bananas and dried apricots topped with yogurt and a sprinkle of freshly grated ginger? You'll say "yum" as your blood pressure hums.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.