Research shows children between 1-3 low on potassium
By John O’Connell
The average American child between the ages of 1 and 3 doesn’t consume enough potassium, which is an essential dietary nutrient and electrolyte found in abundance in white potatoes, according to new findings by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education.
The co-authors, APRE President and CEO Maureen Storey and Patricia Anderson, presented their research during Experimental Biology 2014, a multidisciplinary symposium hosted April 26-30 in San Diego, featuring more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors.
APRE, formed by the industry to promote potato nutrition, also organized a satellite symposium during Experimental Biology featuring six scientists who presented papers on changes in thinking about dietary fats and oils.
Storey found American children consume 2,051 milligrams of potassium on average, about 1,000 milligrams below recommended levels. She believes her study offers the first glimpse at potassium intake by young children shortly after transitioning to solid food, and should be useful for developing future federal dietary guidelines. A committee has begun meetings to draft dietary guidelines scheduled for release in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and USDA.
Storey and Anderson are submitting their papers to peer-reviewed journals to get the information out into the scientific community. They based their conclusions on food consumption surveys from a national database administered by the Centers for Disease Control.
“Potassium is so important for heart health, particularly as it relates to reduced blood pressure,” Storey said. “The fact that these little children are starting out and not getting enough potassium in their diet is a problem.”
Storey said they also examined ethnic background, finding black children without Hispanic ancestry typically consume less potassium than children from other ethnic groups. Blood pressure also tends to be higher among that population, she said.
Cynthia Blanton, an associate professor of nutrition with Idaho State University and a registered dietitian, said potassium is listed as a shortfall nutrient by USDA, meaning Americans in general don’t get enough of it.
“We need a lot of it compared to other nutrients,” Blanton said.
Potassium plays a role in regulating body fluids, neurotransmission and maintaining blood pressure, she said. She believes potassium intake is a bellwether for good nutrition.
“If your potassium is low, you’re probably not eating enough fruits and vegetables,” Blanton said.
National Potato Council spokesman Mark Szymanski said his organization has incorporated the importance of potassium in its lobbying efforts and will likely take advantage of the new age-specific data.
Based on independent research papers presented during the satellite symposium, Storey believes the potato industry must also do a better job of educating the public about how almost all fast-food restaurants and frozen potato processors have moved away from oils containing harmful trans fats.
“The potato industry more than any other industry did a better job of removing trans fatty acids,” Storey said. “Part of the problem is the communication has not caught up with the changes.”