Staying strong as we age obviously requires keeping physically active, especially focusing on strengthening our muscles. And as always, staying strong also means eating well to sustain and build muscle tissue. In this case, that means getting enough potassium.
Science has long known that potassium is needed for muscle control. In recent studies done at Tufts University’s Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, researchers found that including potassium-rich fruits and vegetables in our diets has beneficial effects on muscle. More specifically, older adults need potassium-rich fruits and vegetables that produce an alkaline rather than an acidic residue.
Many of the foods we eat — protein foods and cereal grains, for example — produce acidic residues in our bodies. With aging, many Americans slowly build up these small acid residues, resulting in mild acidosis. This condition seems to “trigger a muscle-wasting response,” according to the researchers. But the process they say, might be counteracted by eating alkaline-producing plant foods high in potassium. Their research showed that subjects “whose diets were rich in potassium averaged 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass (or muscle) 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.”
Bananas are the most familiar potassium-rich food. Some other potassium-rich sources include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beet greens, potatoes, white beans, prunes, soybeans, winter squash, spinach, peaches, apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, lentils, plantains, kidney beans and lima beans.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that older adults get at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily. One medium sweet potato baked in the skin without salt has 542 mg of potassium. An 8- to 9-inch banana has 487 mg. A cup of lima beans, boiled with salt, has 955 mg. A medium baked potato with the skin has 926 mg of potassium. So there are lots of delicious ways to get what we need.
Try my recipe for Creole Lima Beans with Sausage to add a healthy and tasty punch of potassium to your diet.
Creole Lima Beans with Sausage
Feel free to try other types of link sausage in this recipe, including chicken, Italian or beef, or leave out the meat for a delicious, vegetarian side dish.
1 (16-ounce) package andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can (14.5 ounces) stewed tomatoes, with juice, crushed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 rib celery, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar or honey
1 (16-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans
1/2 cup water or chicken broth
1. Using a large skillet over medium heat, add in olive oil. Saute onion for 2 to 3 minutes to soften. Add in the tomatoes and any juices. Use a potato masher or fork to break the tomatoes into large pieces. Add in the sausage, garlic, celery, salt, black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper and brown sugar or honey. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Add lima beans and water or broth to skillet. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until beans are tender. Serves 6.
(Additional information provided by Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist in Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension.) ••
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her Web site is www.divapro.com