The Importance of Potassium and Sodium

Bananas are somewhat of a super fruit.  It is believed that they originated in Malaysia over 4,000 years ago and managed to spread throughout Asia to eventually get to the Americas by the 1480s.  Bananas are a sweet and delicious snack that come prepacked in their own skin and they have an abundance of nutrients to keep our bodies happy and healthy.

Bananas are a rich source of vitamin B6, which assists in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine, as well as the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates.  They also contain vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects the body from free radical damage and improves the absorption of iron.  Fibre is another important feature of bananas, as it promotes normal bowel action in the digestive tract and helps prevent constipation.

However, bananas are better known as a being rich source of potassium.

Potassium is an essential nutrient that performs a variety of roles throughout the body.  Potassium assists with nerve impulse conduction, proper muscle function and enzyme activity, and also participates in the conversion of glucose to glycogen for storage in the liver.

Potassium has a partner in crime – sodium (salt). These two electrolytes work together to maintain fluid balance in the body and increase conductivity of electrical charges of cells.  Without getting too scientific, sodium works outside cells while potassium works inside cells and depending on their concentrations, a ‘membrane potential’ is created.  Having a balanced membrane potential is vital for wellbeing, so it is important to consume healthy amounts of both sodium and potassium to maintain this balance.

If you consume too much sodium and not enough potassium, you put yourself at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.  Low levels of potassium in the blood results in a condition called hypokalemia.  The symptoms include muscle weakness, high blood pressure, depression and lethargy.  On the other hand, if you consume too much potassium, you could develop hyperkalemia and experience heart palpitations and general malaise. The good news is that if you stick to natural sources of potassium, like bananas, then it is highly unlikely that you will overdose on potassium.

The recommended intake of potassium for an adult up to 2000mg a day.  A medium sized banana contains 490mg, almost one quarter of your daily requirements, but other sources include spinach, cantaloupe, broccoli, carrots and legumes.

A few slices of toast topped with peanut butter, honey and sliced banana are fantastic, or try a delicious banana milkshake with cinnamon and honey.  A banana split is as simple as a few spoons of ice cream and a banana covered in gooey chocolate sauce and sprinkled with crushed nuts, or cut an opening along the length of your banana and fill it with choc chips before grilling them until the skins are black.  If you have some overripe bananas, don’t chuck them in the bin! You can make banana bread or banoffee pie, or make yummy choc banana toasties with a bit of chocolate spread, helping you get some healthy doses of potassium and sodium in a fun snack.