Potassium: How Your Body Benefits and Best Foods to Get It

Low potassium can negatively impact the function of your nerves, muscles, and heart.

What Is Potassium?

Potassium is a critical mineral necessary for the proper function of your cells. Your cells use sodium and potassium to maintain the necessary electrical environment inside and outside of cells so your nerves, muscles, and heart work properly.

How much potassium do you need to ward off potassium deficiency?

Daily Requirements

Adequate daily intakes of potassium differ depending on your age:

  • 0 to 6 months: 400 milligrams
  • 7 to 12 months: 700 milligrams
  • 1 to 3 years: 3,000 milligrams
  • 4 to 8 years: 3,800 milligrams
  • 9 to 13 years: 4,500 milligrams

Females between the ages of 14 and 18 who are pregnant should aim for 2,600 milligrams of potassium per day. Those who are lactating should aim for 2,500 milligrams of potassium per day.

Females between the ages of 19 and 50 who are pregnant should aim for 2,900 milligrams of potassium per day. Those who are lactating should aim for 2,800 milligrams of potassium per day.

Foods high in potassium offset acidity that encourages brittle bones.

Helps Slow Osteoporosis

Brittle bones are more common as you age. People in the US tend to eat lots of meat and dairy, which encourages acidity in the bone. Acidity may make your bones get weaker faster. Potassium-rich foods like fruits and vegetables counter this acidity and may help protect bones and slow down the development of osteoporosis.

Foods with potassium may help prevent kidney stones.

Decreases the Risk of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are mineral deposits that build up in the kidneys. You may pass them when you urinate, and they hurt if they get stuck on the way out of your body. High tissue acidity increases the risk of kidney stones. Eating meat increases this acidity. Eating foods high in potassium helps decrease acidity and encourages calcium to stay in the bones so you don't develop bothersome kidney stones.

You need the right levels of sodium and potassium for your muscles to work correctly.

Helps Your Muscles Work

You need adequate potassium levels inside your cells and sodium outside of cells to enable muscle function. If your levels of sodium or potassium are off, you may develop muscle weakness or spasms due to imbalance.

Normal potassium levels may help decreases the risk of high blood pressure.

Decreases the Risk of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a condition that stresses your veins and arteries. It increases the risk of heart disease, heart failure, and stroke. High blood pressure is called "the silent killer" because it rarely causes symptoms. Excess sodium may further exacerbate high blood pressure, but adequate potassium helps eliminate sodium and relaxes blood vessels.

Sufficient potassium levels may help decrease the risk of stroke.

Helps Prevent Strokes

Your brain has its blood supply cut off or restricted in the event of a stroke. Usually burst or blocked blood vessels cause strokes. Some strokes involve high blood pressure, so getting adequate potassium and keeping blood pressure down may help. Stroke signs may include weakness in one arm, slurred speech, and facial drooping on one side. Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you are with exhibits these symptoms.

Bananas are high in potassium.

Bananas

Potassium in bananas can provide you with a good dose of this all-important mineral. One medium banana has 422 milligrams of potassium. If you don't like to eat bananas plain, make banana bread or add slices to cereal.

Potatoes are one of the foods highest in potassium.

Potatoes

High potassium levels are found in potatoes. One medium potato eaten with the skin has 926 milligrams of potassium. Potatoes serve up a big dose of the mineral, but be careful about loading them up with unhealthy toppings like butter, sour cream, and bacon bits, which are high in saturated fat and calories.

Dried fruit like prunes are another good source of potassium.

Prunes

If you want to be more regular and get a healthy dose of potassium, reach for high-fiber prunes that contain 637 milligrams of potassium per half cup. You can have some prune juice, too. Approximately 6 ounces of prune juice has 322 milligrams of the mineral. Many people like to eat prunes with nuts and cheese. They're great in baked goods, too.

Oranges serve up potassium, but they are also high in sugar.

Oranges

Oranges and orange juice supply your body with potassium. One medium orange serves up 238 milligrams of potassium, while 6 ounces of orange juice supplies 372 milligrams of the mineral. Oranges also provide you with a healthy dose of vitamin C. Be mindful that they have sugar, so be careful if you are juicing them and do not go overboard.

Tomato sauce and tomato paste are Italian favorites that serve up large amounts of potassium.

Tomatoes

If you have low potassium levels, you may want to load up on tomato products. One medium tomato has 292 milligrams of the mineral, but tomato sauce and tomato paste have much more. One cup of tomato paste has 2,657 milligrams of potassium. One cup of tomato purée has 1,098 milligrams of the mineral.

Soak lima beans overnight to make them more easily digestible.

Lima Beans

Load up on lima beans to get more fiber and potassium in your diet. These beans have 478 milligrams of potassium in one half-cup. Soak lima beans so they are easier to digest or look for canned and frozen varieties.

Sunflower seeds are another food that you can eat for low potassium symptoms.

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are a good high potassium snack to add to your diet. The seeds have 137 milligrams of potassium per ounce. Sunflower seeds are rich in additional vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, too.

Potassium supplements contain 99 milligrams of the mineral to reduce the risk of potential side effects.

Potassium Supplements

Doctors agree it is preferable to get potassium from the food you eat, but some people may need to take a potassium supplement. Potassium chloride is one widely available supplemental form of potassium that people use as a salt substitute. Supplementing with potassium should only be done on the advice of your physician. Other popular forms of supplemental potassium include potassium citrate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium gluconate, potassium aspartate, and potassium orotate. Be careful with potassium supplements. They can be associated with potentially serious side effects.

Low potassium or hypokalemia can make you feel weak and tired.

Lack of Potassium (Hypokalemia)

Low potassium (hypokalemia) has many effects on the body. You may feel weak, tired, crampy, and suffer from constipation. Many people do not get sufficient potassium in their diet. Others may become deficient in the mineral due to diarrhea, vomiting, alcohol abuse, or from misusing or overusing diuretics or laxatives.

Too much potassium can lead to muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, and nausea.

Too Much Potassium (Hyperkalemia)

If you have too much potassium or hyperkalemia it may produce symptoms like muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, or nausea. Hormone problems or taking certain drugs may result in elevated potassium levels. Doctors treat hyperkalemia with certain medications or with dialysis, which removes waste from the blood that the kidneys normally do.

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REFERENCES:

  • National Spine Health Foundation: “Eat to Strengthen Your Bones, Ligaments, Cartilage, & Muscles.”
  • NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: “Potassium.”
  • Journal of the American Heart Association: “Meta-Analysis of Potassium Intake and the Risk of Stroke.”
  • USDA FoodData Central: “Tomato Paste," "Tomato Puree."
  • American Heart Association: "What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?" "The Facts About High Blood Pressure," "How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure."
  • Cleveland Clinic: "Hyperkalemia."
  • Harvard Health Publications: "Should I Take a Potassium Supplement?"
  • Mayo Clinic: "Stroke," "Low potassium (hypokalemia)."
  • National Stroke Association: “What Is Stroke?"
  • National Institutes of Health: "Potassium Supplement (Oral route, Parenteral route)," "Overnight soaking or boiling of 'Matooke' to reduce potassium content for patients with chronic kidney disease: does it really work?" "Potassium: Tips for People with Chronic Kidney Disease."
  • Oregon State University: "Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Potassium."
  • The Nephron Information Center: "Potassium and Your Diet."
  • UCSD Muscle Physiology Home Page: "Excitation Contraction Coupling."
  • WHfoods.org: "Lima beans."
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