Guest Post by Kelsey Marksteiner – Why Potassium Matters More Than Salt for Blood Pressure Control (Plus 10 Other Pressure-Lowering Tips!)

April 2, 2014 in Categories: , , by

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kmThis is a guest post written by Kelsey Marksteiner MS, RD. Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from NYU and a Master’s in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. She works in private practice and recommends individualized dietary therapy focusing on biologically appropriate diet principles to aid her clients in losing weight, gaining energy, and pursuing continued health. Through her work, she aims to meld the dietary wisdom of traditional cultures with the latest science in integrative and functional medicine to create plans for her clients that work in the modern world. You can learn more about Kelsey by visiting her website or join her newsletter here!

Nearly 1 in 3 (approximately 76 million) people in the United States suffer from high blood pressure. (1) Given that hypertension can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke, this statistic means many of us are at risk. The good news is there is a lot we can do to lower our blood pressure naturally, and I’ll give you my best tips and tricks in this article.

Before we jump into exactly how you can reverse high blood pressure with a real food diet and lifestyle, let’s quickly review the basics of blood pressure. When you get a measurement, you’ll look at a fraction like this: 142/93. The top number is the systolic pressure, which is when the heart is pumping, and the bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which is when the heart is at rest.

According to the 7th report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7), there are four categories of risk when it comes to blood pressure. These are listed below (2):


Despite antihypertensive medication not being indicated for prehypertensive patients without comorbid conditions like diabetes or heart disease (rather, lifestyle modification is the preferred treatment), physicians regularly prescribe these medications to those who fall in that category. Whether you have prehypertension and you’re not on medication or if you’re further along and on medication (and perhaps trying to get off it), lifestyle changes can absolutely help to lower your blood pressure.

Why Salt Won’t Make or Break Your Blood Pressure

We’ve heard for decades that if we have high blood pressure, we need to reduce our sodium intake. Not so fast. Studies show that lowering sodium intake only has a small effect on blood pressure. (3) Plus, despite the fact the high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease, we’re actually more likely to die of heart disease when we reduce our sodium intake. One study showed that both excessive sodium excretion (a marker of how much sodium we’ve consumed) and low sodium excretion are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular complications. (4) The takeaway? Eating a ton of salt isn’t good, but lowering salt to the recommendations currently set by the USDA (1,500mg for those with high blood pressure) isn’t a good idea either. Your best bet to make this a reality is to avoid processed foods that are packed with sodium (we get 75% of our sodium from processed foods in the US), but salt your food to taste – you’ll likely end up right where you need to be. (5)

Focus Less on Salt, More on Potassium

While cuts in salt intake only modestly reduce blood pressure (and increase risk for heart disease), potassium supplementation has been shown to significantly lower blood pressure. (6) In the United States, less than 2% of adults meet the recommendation for potassium intake (>4700 mg). (7) Thankfully, you’re much more likely than the average Standard American Dieter to be getting enough potassium if you’re on a Paleo diet. Why? Fruits and vegetables are usually a big part of a Paleo eater’s diet, and that’s where we find lots of potassium. However, if you’re on a Paleo diet and still having trouble with your blood pressure, see how many of these high-potassium foods you’re eating on a regular basis. If it’s not many, it may be time to increase your intake! Of course you’ll always want to stay away from any foods that you have a sensitivity to, but otherwise feel free to eat any of these foods for a hefty dose. I’ve included a list of 15 high-potassium foods below to get you started. You’ll notice that many of the foods high in potassium are starchy, so if you have high blood pressure (and you’re not dealing with another condition that requires you to be on a strict low-carbohydrate diet), it’s best to include some starchy tubers and fruits. If there’s anything to worry about, it’s reducing your intake of added sugar in processed foods (not real, whole food carbohydrates), as those have been associated with high blood pressure and cutting them out reduces blood pressure. (8)

15 Paleo High Potassium Foods:


Serving Size

Potassium (mg)

Potato, baked 1 medium 897
Spinach, boiled 1 cup 839
Plantain, cooked 1 cup 716
Avocado, sliced 1 cup 708
Medjool Date, pitted 4 dates 668
Acorn squash, boiled 1 cup 644
Butternut squash, baked 1 cup 582
Parsnips, boiled 1 cup 572
Pumpkin, boiled 1 cup 564
Sweet potato, baked 1 medium 542
Portobello mushrooms, grilled 1 cup 529
Banana, sliced 1 cup 537
Red Tomatoes, cooked 1 cup 523
Beets, boiled 1 cup 518
Cantaloupe, cubed 1 cup 427


**Note that boiling a food lowers its potassium content. The USDA only provides cooked nutrition information for some foods in the boiled form, which is why they are included that way here. Don’t switch to boiling your food just because you see it like that here!

Extra Tips for Lowering Blood Pressure Naturally

Eating more potassium isn’t the only thing you can do to control your blood pressure. In fact, there’s a whole lot else you can do, too! Try one (or all 10) of these tips for better blood pressure:

  • Lose weight (if you’re overweight). Research shows that losing weight is more beneficial for blood pressure than restricting salt intake. (9)
  • Eat cold-water fish (such as salmon and sardines) for omega-3 fatty acids as they have been shown to reduce blood pressure. (10)
  • Supplement with magnesium, at least 370 mg a day. (11) Combining magnesium supplementation with increased potassium intake can be as effective as a single anti-hypertensive medication. (12)
  • Drink hibiscus tea. Three cups a day keeps the doctor away, according to research. (13)
  • Drink black tea. Again, three cups a day will do the trick. (14) (Sarah notes that some people may need to limit black tea consumption based on their individual situation)
  • Eat more garlic – it’s been shown to reduce high blood pressure. (15)
  • Increase your polyphenol consumption (which, by the way, also helps improve your gut bacteria). Studies show that polyphenol-rich dark chocolate helps to lower blood pressure. (16, 17)
  • Supplement with CoQ10. A randomized controlled trial showed that those who supplemented with 60 mg of CoQ10 twice daily over 12 weeks reduced systolic blood pressure by almost 18 points! (18)
  • Get more sleep. Sleep deprivation causes increases in blood pressure (19) and sleep apnea is the most common condition associated with resistant hypertension. (20)
  • Use mind-body medicine techniques. Meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and biofeedback all reduce blood pressure. (21, 22, 23, 24)

I’d love to hear from you. What tips have you tried? Do you have any other tips that have worked well for you? Submit them in the comments!


Thanks for this post!! I think my husband will start paying attention to things other than his medication when he sees this!

Awesome advice. I have high blood pressure and have “weak moments” in my paleo diet. This is motivation to get rid of the weakness and add some…some…banana and cantaloupe to my diet!


This article is so helpful! I’m going to share it on my FB page @PamsGonnaLoseIt
I use the EmWave Heart Math program to help with mind/body coherence and find that having instant feedback on my computer helps train my body to switch from hyprevigilence to quiet.

Be sure to mention hibiscus tea which has been shown effective in lowering high blood pressure. I also am confused on why you recommend drinking black tea, which contains caffiene, and can make the problem worse? And I will also mention again, not to eat processed foods, sugary drinks, etc, as I think this needs to be emphasised again!

I actually have the opposite problem – my blood pressure is low and I have poor circulation (cold hands & feet). Will increasing potassium help to regulate blood pressure in general or should it only be increased to lower it?

Great article. The comment about the sleep apnea was very interesting. I have low blood pressure but my husband is the exact opposite. I will share this article with him. Especially, the part about the sleep apnea.

My wife has cronic lyme. Anything she eats, no matter how small the amount causes immediate pain and burning in her joints to the point she has to lie down. She is losing weight she cannot afford to lose. Can you help. Her doctor has no clue what to do.

Kelsey, I also believe I have low blood pressure. This is a great article….but I’m doing many of the things on it. Maybe I shouldn’t be? Thank!

Totally wondering the same thing as You, Lisa! Perhaps Kelsey or Sarah, you would concider doing another article for Low blood pressure? I realize it might be hard to get both sides of this answered just here….but it would be great to Know. 🙂

Sarah, hoping to to get your book soon. If it’s half as informative as your blog, I’m going to have troubles putting it down!

I have high BP. Issues that brought all my health problems on: Hashimotos, surgical menopause, CFS and quitting smoking (yeah who thought that could be BAD?) I’ve been on a paleo diet for over 1.5 years. AIP for 4 months. My thyroid labs are optimal. I cannot lose weight, cannot stay in a refreshing sleep, or exercise. My GP only offers diruetics which I don’t want to take. I eat all the good foods listed here and no processed foods, ever. I don’t even tell people I’m Paleo anymore because it’s done nothing positive for me at all. Wondering if a lack of sex hormones could be causing high BP as well as hindering weight loss? Can’t find a doc who knows anything about sex hormone replacement…either they are into the Wylie protocol or they don’t believe in BHRT. Any thoughts on other things that could be causing the high BP?

I’m no expert, but I know thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormones can all contribute to that (and that adrenal problems are often overlooked in autoimmune patients). If you need help finding a good doctor, Sarah recommends and as excellent resources. She also has for troubleshooting problems for autoimmune patients. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Ok , sorry about that, some sites can be difficult to post to.
So I had HBP 2-3 years ago……its long gone now….so much lower!….my Doctor told me to continue doing what I was doing.
I had tried every thing, exercising like crazy, eating healthy, low carb etc.
Then my Doctor at the time put me on water pills in addition to the BP medication I was taking……then I would fall asleep every day at 5pm. No amount of coffee or stimulants would help….even opening the window when I was driving did not help…..only chewing gum helped to keep me awake at the wheel. …..Doctors felt because i am black(mixed) I was prone to be this way with high BP…..
I read up tons on that to find out it was untrue that it was an old numbers game of lack of a traditional crappy diet from being underpriviledged!!!! i.e not being able to eat healthy food!!!

i have to continue maybe too long….but I have to tell my story , maybe it might help someone…
I persisted, then I found this book by DRs EADES, where he had a 6 week cure for the middle

Aged middle which required a 6 week cleanse for the liver…..I went on this, and had to cutout caffeine, alcohol, eat low crab,…..well my doctor suggested that During this I get off the BP medication gradually……which I did as it was not good for the body during the cleanse…….well I never went back on BP meds…..I am positive it was the ACOHOL cutting back……to summ it up I never could basically stomach Alcohol again….something that I used to enjoy… is said that the liver is powerful, so it rejected the alcohol!

I now always, have 1/2 avocado per day, eat the paleo way, do not eat chocolate(caffeine!) well dark, if I have to cheat, I will have milk, which has more sugar than caffeine, and make up for it in other areas of my cutting back as it “is” a cheat treat!!!!….I do not have wheat, dairy ( I do have farm eggs, and farm butter and grass fed sheeps cheese imported) or legumes…..rules of paleo….lots of healthy oils, bacon, tons veggies with coconut oil and Palm oil, little Ghee, olive oil only for “salads and mayonaise making) as it cannot be cooked with…..I do hope this is helpful to some folks.

Oh and I race walk for training in 1/2 marathons, but skip the big day as 21 kms is too stressing on the body!

Kelsey, wow! Loved the link. I have adrenal fatigue and have been wondering about a thyroid issue. My tests came out OK but I’m still losing hair a year later. Don’t know what I should ask the doctor to do after they just looked puzzled.
But Paleo Has helped, and I plan to try the AIP after reading Sarah’s article on You Might Have An Autoimmune Desease. It read like me! I’ve been weak all my life, but I’d like to get more energy back as well as More energy in general.
Everyone has been a Huge help here in explaining Paleo! Although it has taken a while to see results and needs discipline, it is Worth it. It is the First real help – and hope – I’ve had since the doctors started shaking their heads!

finally, someone talking about potassium. thanks, K values should be on all food labels. btw, watermelon juice is quite high in K.

a bit of constructive criticism: i really HATE it when portion/serving size is given in only in volume and not weight. there is far too much variability only using volume.


Hello. I’d love to see a list of signs/symptoms of low potassium and supplement recommendations to jump start raising potassium levels. I mention this because I get swelling of the feet and ankles with hot weather. Basically, all summer my feet/ankles are swollen (not inflammation, I have successfully eliminated chemical inflammation with a paleo autoimmune diet). I’ve been trying to figure out the cause so I can stop it. I suspected magnesium deficiency, but feel I’ve addressed this, so now I’m checking out potassium deficiency.
Does anyone know anything about this issue?

Please emphasize somewhere that people with any kind of kidney issues or potential issues (like those taking medication for diabetes) should AVOID high potassium foods. A high potassium Paleo diet would literally Kill my lean, controlled blood pressure husband with lab results of way too high potassium already. Without consulting a physician someone should never do a radical diet change including Paleo.

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