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The scoop on potassium for diabetes.  

Emma Stirling
Emma Stirling APD

Did you know that the humble mineral potassium is now linked with diabetes? Yes, really. In fact researchers are now claiming that for some people, low potassium may become as an important risk factor as obesity. Let’s explore a recent study and give you the lowdown on where to boost your intake.

Exploring the link: A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the relationship between potassium levels and type 2 diabetes. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University looked at more than 12,000 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC), performed in 1987 and 1996. The study found that as potassium levels went up, the incidence of diabetes among study participants went down. The African Americans in the study were found to have lower average potassium levels than the Caucasians and were twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Interpreting the results: So should everyone start rushing off to buy potassium supplements? No. Even the study researchers conclude that these findings only indicate that a low potassium level is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. And that, on average, African Americans have lower potassium levels than the Caucasian population. However, they do note that low potassium levels have been previously linked in healthy people to higher insulin and higher glucose levels – two hallmarks of diabetes. It’s likely that high potassium levels are a marker of a healthy diet that has good intakes of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, so there is a strong potential for a number of factors to be at play. Clinical trials are now needed to see if managing adequate or optimal potassium levels, either through diet changes or by adding supplements, reduces the risk of diabetes for some ethnic groups.

Get a boost from a banana: That said, potassium is a great mineral to have on board. It acts as a complementary mineral to sodium and can help achieve a healthy blood pressure. The best bet approach is to focus on a nutrient rich eating plan with plenty of potassium rich foods like nuts, dried and fresh fruit, wholegrains including bran and wheatgerm, raw vegetables, lean meat and fish. By far the most well know source of potassium is the banana, which is well and truly back in Aussie shopping trolleys after storm shortages last year. The average banana (GI 52) provides around 20g carbohydrate and around 350mg of potassium (about 10% of your daily needs). Time to wake up to a smoothie?

Emma Stirling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health writer with over ten years experience writing for major publications. She is editor of The Scoop on Nutrition – a blog by expert dietitians. Check it out for hot news bites and a healthy serve of what’s in flavour.