Potassium-Rich Produce Helps You Stay Strong as You Get Older

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ARE YOU GETTING enough fruits and vegetables to keep your muscles strong as you age? If you're like most Americans, the answer is probably no.

Although you surely already know something about the health benefits of foods from plants, that mention of muscles may surprise you. But new Tufts research suggests that fruits and vegetables rich in potassium may help preserve muscle mass in older adults. Loss of muscle mass with aging leads to sarcopenia, a condition first identified by Tufts scientists that's associated with frailty and increased risk of dangerous falls.

Led by Bess Dawson-Hughes, MD, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts' Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, researchers looked at links between measures of lean body mass (mostly muscle) and diets relatively high in potassium-rich, alkaline-residue-producing fruits and vegetables. The typical American diet is rich in protein, cereal grains and other acid-producing foods; in general, such diets generate tiny amounts of acid each day. Foods contribute to the acid-base balance of the diet based on the residues they produce in the body, rather than whether the foods are alkaline or acidic themselves. For example, acidic grapefruits are metabolized to alkaline residues.

With aging, a mild but slowly increasing metabolic "acidosis" develops, according to the researchers. This acidosis appears to trigger a muscle-wasting response, which might be neutralized by alkaline-producing plant foods high in potassium.

The researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis on a subset of nearly 400 male and female volunteers ages 65 or older who had completed a three-year osteoporosis intervention trial. The subjects' physical activity, height and weight, and percentage of lean body mass had been measured at the start and completion of the study. Their urinary potassium was measured at the start of the study, and dietary data were collected at 18 months.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that high-potassium diets seemed to help protect against the loss of muscle mass associated with aging. Subjects whose diets were rich in potassium averaged 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass than those with only half the potassium intake. That almost offsets the 4.4 pounds of lean tissue typically lost in a decade in healthy men and women age 65 and above.

The latest federal dietary guidelines emphasize the importance of older adults getting at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily. But experts estimate that most Americans consume only about half that amount.

TO LEARN MORE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2008; abstract at .
Potassium Powerhouses

According to the USDA, fruits and vegetables high in potassium include:

Sweet potatoes

Tomatoes

Beet greens

Potatoes

White beans

Prunes

Soybeans

Lima beans

Winter squash

Bananas

Spinach

Peaches

Apricots

Cantaloupe

Honeydew melon

Lentils

Plantains

Kidney beans

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