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Can Potato Chips Really Prevent Muscle Cramps?

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Would you like some potato chips with that protein shake? If you're the Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, the answer is probably yes. During a recent baseball game, Hammel ate a bag of potato chips in between innings on recommendation by his doctor to help prevent muscle cramps. Um, what the what?

Turns out his doctor's rec wasn't too far off the mark, though. Potassium and adequate hydration are both important in cramp prevention, and a food high in potassium and salt can help retain water. Potatoes are a naturally high-potassium food, and when it comes to their chip form, one ounce of Kettle brand Sea Salt potato chips contains 115mg of sodium and 430mg of potassium (about 12 percent of the daily recommended intake).

Bear in mind that staying hydrated is also a critical part of the equation to preventing cramps, though, and it's unclear exactly how much potassium is needed to prevent cramps. That said, if chips aren't really your style, here are some other healthy options that can help prevent a deficiency and stave off those dreaded cramps:

Potatoes. White potatoes pack a potassium punch with 1 medium-sized one clocking in 897mg. With fiber and Vitamin C, they're the perfect base for a healthy meal. Simply top with veggies and a protein and you're all set. When you're ready to mix things up, swap in a medium-sized sweet potato and you'll still get 527mg of potassium on your plate.

Bananas. One of the first high-potassium foods that comes to mind is a banana. One medium-sized banana has 422mg of potassium (equivalent to 13 potato chips, without the fat). With more fiber, Vitamin C, B6, and magnesium than potato chips, it's easily a healthier choice. (Check out these 11 Other Foods That Are Loaded With Potassium)

Pistachios. Nuts are easy to much on and 1 ounce (49 kernels) of pistachios may be exactly what you need to satisfy those crunchy cravings. You'll score 291mg of potassium, so add them to salads or yogurt, or make them into a pesto to mix up your everyday meals.

Tomatoes. Tomatoes are in their sweet summer season, so it's not hard to eat a 1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes either by themselves or mixed with mozzarella and basil and drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. Fresh tomatoes provide 175mg of potassium, though you get even more if you turn them into a sauce.

Milk. Cereal's best friend can help prevent muscle cramps with 366mg of potassium and 107mg of sodium in 1 cup of 1 percent milk. Another benefit: Built-in hydration. Chocolate also contains potassium, so try chocolate milk for double the muscle cramp-busting efforts.

Avocado. Top your salad or toast with 1/2 cup sliced avocado, loaded with 354mg of potassium. With added fiber and healthy fats, it's also a healthier option than chips to prevent cramps. If you're carb-loading before a big event, try topping your pasta with this avocado sauce: Blend one avocado with two tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice, a few leaves of basil, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Done and done.

 

Deborah Tagliareni MS RD

Deborah Tagliareni, a Registered Dietitian and Founder of Milestone Nutrition, received her bachelors degree from Northwestern University and Masters in Clinical Nutrition from New York University.  More →

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