Victor L. Fulgoni III, PhD, Senior Vice President, Nutrition Impact LLC, Battle Creek, Michigan
In your analysis of nutrient intake data, what have you found about potassium intakes?
Potassium intakes are well below recommendations for all age and gender groups we have evaluated. I would venture to say the gap in current intakes of potassium as compared to recommended levels is among the largest of all the nutrients with a Dietary Reference Intake. The key issue here is that only a very few foods provide meaningful amounts of potassium—dairy products (milk/yogurt), potatoes, orange juice, tomato products and prunes/prune juice.
Looking at potassium intake using the What We Eat in America data (the dietary component of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES]), in 2003–2004 USDA reported potassium intakes averaged 2,622 mg/day for those 2-plus years. About a decade later (2011–2012), intakes were virtually unchanged at 2,665 mg/day.
Using data for 2005–2006, USDA reported the average percentage of potassium that was being consumed away from home was 33 percent for those 2-plus years of age; data for 2011–2012 indicated the percentage of potassium consumed away from home was also virtually unchanged for those 2-plus years of age. Thus, neither potassium intake nor eating habits have changed substantially in the past decade.
How do we keep potassium top of mind as a nutrient of public health concern in the eyes of health professionals?
This is one of the most frustrating areas for me. While many say our sodium intakes are too high, I like to say that our potassium intakes are simply too low. Almost everyone agrees that higher potassium intake will reduce effects of sodium intake but for some reason we have only focused on reducing sodium intake (with virtually no success given taste preference for salt/sodium). I think we would be better off trying to increase potassium concomitantly with reducing sodium intake, and maybe selecting more modest sodium reduction targets with modest increases in potassium.
How can health professionals and public health stakeholders help consumers bridge the gap between recommendations and intake?
We need to be more specific about the foods that can provide potassium in the diet. Even the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee continues to state, “Fruits, vegetables and legumes are all important sources of potassium,” but not all fruits/vegetables are important sources of potassium. We have to be more specific about which fruits, which vegetables, which legumes. However since this complicates the message (thus reducing the likelihood of creating a simple message) I have little confidence this will happen. My hope is the producers of the foods that are important sources of potassium will develop messages to convey that importance. However, even that gets complicated as many of the foods the report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee lists as important sources of potassium would not meet the excellent source nutrient content claim allowed by the US Food and Drug Administration (20 percent of the Daily Value or 700 mg). So, drink more milk, eat more yogurt, have more baked potatoes, have more bananas and eat your beans.