Potassium like all other minerals has a specific role in the body and works alongside other nutrients to support our optimal health. The World Health Organisation published recommendations for both adults and children in 2012, suggesting an increase in potassium rich foods may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease as adults. So what does potassium do, where do we find it and how can we teach children about its importance?
What it does:
Potassium is an essential mineral and like many others it helps the body to build protein and use carbohydrates. It’s primary role as an electrolyte, alongside sodium and chloride helps to conduct electrical charges in the body stimulating our nerves and muscles – therefore directly impacting on our heart health and nervous system. If levels of potassium become too high or low there is a direct impact on heartbeat and blood pressure. It also plays a significant role in bone health as it affects the amount of calcium in the bones. Low levels of potassium have also been linked to fatigue, irritability and confusion.
The function of potassium is closely related to sodium. If sodium levels are increased, perhaps through dietary sources such as shellfish, processed foods and added table salt, increasing potassium levels can be beneficial to help maintain stable blood pressure. Studies suggest the ratio of these two nutrients is an important factor for health and whilst sodium has an important role to play in controlling water in the body, acid/alkali balance and muscle contraction most people generally have too much.
Why it’s important for children:
Since potassium levels have been closely linked to our risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease, encouraging children to get into the habit of eating foods high in it may also help keep their health, especially their blood pressure, in check as they age.
Potassium is commonly found in a whole variety of unrefined foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Processed foods contain considerably less potassium and often high levels of sodium.
Foods containing high levels include:
Actions for Early Years:
Introduce young children to the role their heart plays in their body, the impact of foods they eat, and also the importance of exercise. Demonstrating that you can feel your heart beat by touching your chest and by also feeling for a pulse. There are also some great monitors which allow you to show heart rate visibly which are certainly used as children progress into Primary School.
Talking about foods to protect our heart beat can also be discussed and encouraging children to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables daily.
Encouraging children to develop an understanding about the importance of potassium, including good source-rich fruit and vegetables can help to support their development and may well also impact on their long-term health into adulthood.
The Food Teacher, Katharine Tate, has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years.
Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. She has also published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’.