For the past few days, I’ve been stressing the importance of trading the high-sodium foods we eat for high-potassium replacements. But there’s much more to making those substitutions than you might think.
Take bananas and potatoes, two of the foods highest in potassium. In that regard, they’re leaps and bounds ahead of cow’s milk. Yet cow’s milk currently reigns as the American diet’s number one source of potassium.
It’s clear that on the potassium score, bananas and potatoes have nothing to be ashamed of. That said, they’re some of the least colorful members of the vegetable kingdom.
And among fruits and vegetables, color equates to added health benefits!
In other words, a healthy diet should include bananas and potatoes. But only as part of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Why Bananas and Potatoes Aren’t Enough
In 2010, a team of researchers at the University of Oslo’s Institute of Basic Medical Sciences collated data on 3,100 foods from around the world.
Their goal was to rank these foods in terms of health-boosting nutrients. In their words:
“Understanding the complex role of diet in… chronic diseases is challenging since a typical diet provides more than 25,000 bioactive food constituents, many of which may modify a multitude of processes that are related to these diseases.”
Every fruit and vegetable abounds with a unique nutrient profile far exceeding its label’s typical vitamins. Each also possesses its distinctive probiotic characteristics.
Sadly, however, too much of America’s current plant-based intake consists of mountains of potatoes and rivers of juice.
The top 5 items making up our 2019 per-person vegetable intake?
- Potatoes, 49.4 pounds (about 30 pounds fresh, 20 pounds frozen)
- Tomatoes, 31.5 pounds (11 pounds fresh, 19 pounds canned)
- Onions, 9.4 pounds
- Carrots, about 9 pounds (8 pounds fresh, 1 pound canned or frozen)
- Head lettuce, about 7 pounds fresh
French fries accounted for the bulk of the frozen potatoes. Most of the canned tomatoes (nearly two-thirds of the total) were turned into pizza sauce.
Our top five fruits for 2018?
- Apples, 26.8 pounds (13.7 pound juiced)
- Oranges, 22 pounds (17.9 pounds juiced)
- Bananas, 13.9 pounds
- Grapes, 6 pounds (3 pounds juiced)
- Strawberries, 4.8 pounds
That’s roughly 75 pounds of fruit, 43 percent of which the USDA reports we consumed as highly processed, nutrient-depleted juice!
What Beats Bananas and Potatoes?
As critical as their potassium is to arterial health, bananas have only a fraction of the most popular berries’ antioxidants. I love potatoes and bananas as much as anyone. But replacing a high-sodium diet with one high in potassium means much more than tallying potassium points and calling it good.
As the University of Oslo researchers wrote in compiling their research, “… there are several thousand-fold differences in antioxidant content foods.”
A comparison of banana’s antioxidant score to those of four Norwegian-grown fruits proves their point:
- Bananas 0.27
- Strawberries 5.44
- Blueberries 9.24
- Cherries 7.14
- Raspberries 3.97
(Antioxidant amounts in mmol per 100 grams).
Considering the huge difference in various fruits and vegetables’ nutrient profiles, it’s no wonder that many studies stress dietary variety over quantity.
In two NutritionFacts videos, Dr. Greger expands on this emphasis – especially concerning inflammation.
From the first video:
“But those eating the more variety – even if they didn’t necessarily eat greater overall quantities – had significantly less inflammation.”
“Those switching… to an even lower antioxidant diet saw the levels of C-reactive protein in their bodies rise 40%, whereas those switching to the high-antioxidant diet saw their levels drop.”
In other words, the groups ate the same amount of fruits and veggies each day, but only those eating high-antioxidant ones experienced the anti-inflammatory benefits!
Focusing on specific nutrients, such as potassium, can sabotage our efforts to find the healthiest diet. So why not simplify things?
Start moving away from unhealthy high-sodium, SAD foods and toward the healthiest ones: whole food, plant-based and vibrant with colors, rich with textures, and bursting with taste.