The Missing Week: Potassium

It’s a little busy around Chez ETW – I’ve got deadlines, Mr. ETW has been traveling for work, and ETW Jr has been promoted to Vice Chairman of the Problems Keeping Your Pants On, Seriously, Why Are They In the Sink? department. But I don’t want to let a lack of time keep us from discussing what is lacking in our diets: potassium.

Cut Potassium pieces from Dennis s.k collection (Wikipedia user Dnn87)

Tasty image, yes? There will be food porn shortly, I promise. Before that, let’s answer, “Why potassium?” In short, this mineral is one of the key electrolytes in the body. There’s a complex square dance routine going on in many of your cells, where potassium, calcium, and sodium (along with others) are do-si-do-ing, changing electrical charges along the way. This fancy footwork keeps nerve cells functioning, muscles contracting, and fluids regulated.

How much do we need? For healthy adults and teens, the daily adequate intake (AI) is 4,700 mg. But here’s where The Missing Week comes in, because on average, we’re not meeting the AI. Data from the United States and Canada suggests we’re only getting 45-70% of the daily recommended potassium from our diets.

“Hey, that’s more than half, on average,” you say. “What’s the big deal?” Well, there’s a good deal of evidence that in the electrolyte square dance, potassium keeps Crazy Legs Sodium from spiraling off the dance floor, knocking over the band and spilling beers on your mother-in-law’s new cowboy boots. More science-y version: a potassium-rich diet tends to be low sodium as well; and potassium may counteract the effects of excess dietary sodium, reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure and other cardiovascular ills. With the average person downing way more than the recommended upper limit of dietary sodium, we could all stand to work on boosting potassium intake as a counterbalance.

That potassium-rich diet would feature a lot of plants, seafood, and dairy, as these are some of the best dietary sources of the mineral. Sweet or white potatoes, beet greens, avocado, tomatoes (puree or paste, especially), clams and yogurt are potasstic (yep) foods. Edamame, salmon, halibut, and white beans are other protein-rich potassium sources, while fruits like bananas, dried apricots, figs and cantaloupe also pack a K punch. You can find more in this Cooking Light article, and in this table (pdf) from the 2005 dietary guidelines.

Coming back to the “OMG I HAVE NO TIME THIS WEEK” opener to this post, I was therefore glad that one of the staples in our family recipe list – pasta with clams, spinach and tomatoes – is high on the potassium scale. It’s easy to throw together, tasty, and delivers a whopping 34% of an adult’s daily potassium requirement.

And I had a little bit of time left over for some new recipe development, so I worked on a tasty breakfast recipe: warm banana, date and dried apricot chutney over Greek yogurt that contains roughly 30% of your daily potassium needs. Not enough time, however, for a picture, so you’ll just have to trust me that it looks (and tastes) awesome. Recipes for both dishes are at the end of this post.

Now, back to the ridiculous square-dancing theme. Grab your partner, two-by-two, and come out to the dance floor for these potassium-rich recipes:

  • Brussel sprouts and roasted squash hash, from Martha Shulman/NYTimes (here)
  • Fig, date and walnut bread, from My Recipes (here)
  • Orange-walnut salad with chicken, from Eating Well (here)
  • Pasta with clams, spinach and tomatoes (recipe follows below)
  • Rainbow vegetable stew, from PBS Kids Kitchen Explorers (here)
  • Skillet gnocchi with chard and white beans, from Eating Well (here) – to boost the potassium content, increase the beans to ½ cup per serving and double the chard.
  • Yogurt with bananas, dates and dried apricots (recipe follows below)

Looking for more? Eating Well’s site lets you search by dietary considerations; here are the results for high-potassium recipes. And remember sweet potato week from a little while back? That post features several recipes using those orange-hued potassium rockstars.

Pasta with clams, spinach and tomatoes (text file here)

This recipe is hiding its casual nature behind all these precise measurements and procedure hootenanny. In reality, I rarely measure anything when I make this, going more by sight and preference at the time (yay for onions, but boo we’re out of tomatoes).

If you scale this up, you may want to cut back the clams’ juice, depending on how saucy you like things.

(1 serving, approx. 410 calories and 1,600 mg potassium)

1 cup (dry) whole wheat pasta
1 tsp olive oil
¼ large onion, red or white, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 6.5-oz can of clams
¾ cup diced tomatoes
½ tsp dried parsley
2 cups spinach
Grated parmesan, romano or similar, to taste

Put a pot of water on high heat. When boiling, add the pasta and cook as the package directs.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Once it gets shimmery, add the onion and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Add the clam juice – but not the clams – to the pan, along with the parsley. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down slightly, and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, spinach and clams. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes or until the spinach is mostly wilted.

Strain the pasta and put it in a bowl or on a plate. Scoop the clam and vegetable mixture onto the pasta, and top it with a little grated cheese.

Yogurt with bananas, dates and apricots (text file here)

If you’re pressed for time, this could easily be a no-cook dish – just throw everything into a bowl and eat it cold.

(1 serving, approx. 350 calories and 1,400 mg potassium)

½ banana, sliced
¼ cup dried apricots, diced
¼ cup dates, fresh, diced
¼ cup water
8 oz non-fat Greek yogurt, plain

In a small pan, bring the water, bananas, apricots and dates to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid thickens.

Remove the pan from heat. Allow to cool slightly (1-2 minutes).

Put the yogurt in a bowl and top with the fruit mixture.

One comment

  1. […] feel while getting the biggest nutritional bang for your investment (in time and calories). My pasta with clams and spinach recipe needs less than 15 minutes to make, and including clams, whole-grain pasta, and several veggies […]

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