Potassium is an essential electrolyte and mineral that play a major role in many bodily functions, including regulating muscle contraction, glycogen (glucose storage), protein synthesis, proper nerve conduction, blood pressure, and heartbeat. Potassium is one of the essential minerals responsible for the maintenance of osmotic pressure in the extra and intracellular environments.
Potassium is naturally found in most seeds, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. In a healthy individual with proper functioning in the kidney, abnormally high or low blood potassium levels are rare.[i] Many people get sufficient potassium by consuming a balanced diet. Lack of enough potassium can result in serious health problems. Nevertheless, taking in lots of potassium can cause long-term or temporary issues.
Studies have suggested that a high intake of potassium can decrease the risks of specific diseases, including kidney stones, osteoporosis[iii], and stroke. Furthermore, researchers have found an indirect relationship between blood pressure and potassium intake among people with low potassium levels and high blood pressure[iv]. Individuals who eat a large variety of vegetables and fruits seem to benefit the most.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), stroke is the 5th biggest cause of death in the US and is a major health problem causing disability in adults. People can prevent the risks of stroke by taking serious actions.
Help Prevent Muscle Cramping
Extensive exercise requires the replacement of electrolytes, both sodium and potassium, because they are often lost through sweat[v]. Nonetheless, to prevent muscle cramping, sufficient amounts of sodium and potassium after, during, and before exercise is quite important.
High blood pressure overworks the heart and increases risks of cardiovascular disease and other health problems like blindness, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, and stroke. In an old but memorable clinical study titled Dietary Approaches to Reduce Hypertension (DASH), the researchers found that diets rich in low-fat dairy foods, vegetables, and fruits, and reduced sugar and saturated fat can significantly reduce lower blood pressure.[vi]
Hypercalciuria (very high urinary calcium levels) increases the risk of kidney stones. Diets low in potassium and high in protein might contribute to increased stone formation in kidneys. Increasing potassium intake through increased vegetables and fruits intake or more supplementation might reduce urinary calcium, thus decreasing the risks of kidney stones.[vii]
Lack of enough potassium or hypokalemia can result in different health problems, including:[ii]
- Low levels of calcium in the bones
- Risks of kidney stones
- Hypertension – low blood pressure
For a healthy person, the deficiency is having less than 3.6 millimoles per liter of blood serum. The cutoff is lower for individuals with kidney disease. An individual with mild potassium deficiency might start experiencing:
- Malaise or feeling unwell
- Muscle weakness
If the levels of potassium drop below 2.5 mmol/l in a healthy individual, doctors consider this a moderate to severe deficiency. This might result in:
- Confusion among people having kidney disease
- Change in heart rhythm
- Breathing problems
- Muscular paralysis
- Glucose intolerance
- High urine production
The temporary reduction of potassium might not cause many symptoms. For instance, lots of sweating during a workout can cause the potassium levels to reduce, but they might normalize after drinking electrolytes or eating a meal before damage is done. Symptoms and signs of potassium deficiency include:
Fatigue And Weakness
Fatigue and weakness are the first symptoms of potassium deficiency. Because potassium helps control muscle contractions, deficiency can lead to weaker contractions.
Muscle Spasms And Cramps
Muscle cramps are uncontrolled muscle contractions and might occur if the potassium levels are lower in the blood.
Possible Side Effects
If you increase your intake of vegetables and fruits, it’s highly likely you’ll also be increasing your fiber intake as well as potassium. When increasing fiber intake, it’s crucial to increase gradually to prevent bloating and gas. Furthermore, ensure you drink enough fluids. Failure to take enough fluid can lead to constipation and, in severe cases, intestinal blockage.
A person could typically tolerate high potassium levels that the kidneys eliminate. Nevertheless, hyperkalemia or excess potassium might be harmful to individuals with kidney issues if the kidney isn’t able to remove adequate potassium.[viii] This can be very dangerous, especially if the levels of calcium quickly rise.
Health physicians consider potassium levels to be higher if they reach 5.1 mmol/l – 6.0 mmol/l of serum. If this is the case, professional monitoring is essential, and any higher level than six mmol/l requires immediate attention. Individuals with hyperkalemia might have very few symptoms. If symptoms of potassium start appearing, they’re similar to those of lacking enough potassium.
- Abdominal discomfort
To prevent such side effects, ensure you take supplements recommended by your doctor, preferably with liquid or meals, to minimize gastrointestinal effects. If you start taking potassium supplements, your blood should be regularly monitored as high potassium levels in the blood are dangerous.
Dosage And Preparation
The adequate potassium intake is 4.7 grams/day for many adults, 5.1 grams for breastfeeding women, and 4.7 grams/day for pregnant women. Variations of potassium intake vary depending on lactation, pregnancy, age, and gender.
You should consider storing vegetables and fruits using the best practices to maximize their freshness. This differs depending on the vegetable or fruit. Some like tomatoes can be stored at room temperature, while others can be refrigerated. When taking potassium supplements, store them in a cool, dry place. Prepare the supplements as directed by your medical/doctor team.
Where To Get Your Potassium
You can get your potassium from the food you eat or by taking potassium supplements. The best way to get enough potassium is by eating various whole foods, including bananas, oranges, avocados, vegetables (such as dried beans, squash, and sweet potatoes), some sources of protein like chicken and salmon, and low-fat milk. It’s estimated that the body uses approximately 85% – 90% of dietary potassium.
Forms of potassium in vegetables and fruits include potassium phosphate, citrate, sulfate, and others, but not potassium chloride found in the potassium salt supplements.
According to the US Department of Agriculture nutrition database, the following are some of the foods that are rich in potassium. The list below also shows the amount of potassium present in each of the foods.
- Watermelon – one cup of diced watermelon contains 170 mg
- Yogurt – one cup low fat has 563 mg
- Tomatoes – one cup of chopped tomatoes has 430 mg
- Sweet potato – one cup baked has 664 mg
- Spinach – one cup cooked has 839 mg
- Salmon – six ounces has 730 mg
- Quinoa – one cup cooked has 318 mg
- Potato – one medium baked has 930 mg
- Parsley – one cup chopped has 332 mg
- Peppers – one cup chopped has 314 mg
- Peas – one cup raw has 354 mg
- Orange – one small has 238 mg
- Mushrooms – one cup whole has 305 mg
- Milk – one cup low fat has between 350 and 380 mg
- Cherries – one cup with no pits has 342 mg
- Carrots – one cup chopped has 410 mg
- Cantaloupe – one cup cubes has 427 mg
- Beans – half a cup dried has 1,813 mg
- Baby Brussels sprouts – 13 pieces has 315 mg
- Beets – one cup raw has 442 mg
- Banana – one medium has 430 mg
- Avocado – ¼ of a whole has 172 mg
- Artichokes – one cup hearts cooked has 480 mg
- Apple – one medium has 195 mg
- Acorn squash – one cup cooked with no salt has 896 mg
Supplementing with potassium can be controversial and confusing. Although it’s always important to get potassium from whole foods, some people fail to have enough potassium intake. However, if you aren’t sure you need to take potassium supplements, seek professional guidance, your dietician or physician can help.[ix]
Potassium supplements are readily available as capsules, tablets, liquid and come in different forms, including potassium gluconate, chloride, citrate, or aspartate. A health physician should determine the type and amount you need to take. Many over-the-counter multivitamin-mineral supplements and potassium supplements provide about 99 milligrams of potassium.
What is the main health benefit of potassium?
What food is high in potassium?
What happens if your body has low levels of potassium?
How much potassium is considered too much?
Can I take potassium supplements every day?
How do you know if you have low levels of potassium?
Is potassium good for the kidneys?
Do potassium supplements help sleep?
- [i] Ferraro PM, et. al. Dietary Protein and Potassium, Diet–Dependent Net Acid Load, and Risk of Incident Kidney Stones. CJASN. October 2016, 11 (10) 1834-1844; DOI: 10.2215/CJN.01520216
- [ii] Linus Pauling Institute. Potassium.
- [iii] Macdonald, HM, et. al. Effect of potassium citrate supplementation or increased fruit and vegetable intake on bone metabolism in healthy postmenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Aug;88(2):465-74.
- [iv] Aburto, et. al. Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ. 2013 Apr 3;346:f1378. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.f1378.
- [v] Granchi, D, et. al. Potassium Citrate Supplementation Decreases the Biochemical Markers of Bone Loss in a Group of Osteopenic Women: The Results of a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. Nutrients. 2018 Sep 12;10(9). pii: E1293. DOI: 10.3390/nu10091293.
- [vi] Appel LJ, Moore TJ, Obarzanek E, et al. A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. DASH Collaborative Research Group. N Engl J Med. 1997;336(16):1117-1124.
- [vii] Ferraro PM, et. al. Dietary Protein and Potassium, Diet–Dependent Net Acid Load, and Risk of Incident Kidney Stones. CJASN. October 2016, 11 (10) 1834-1844; DOI: 10.2215/CJN.01520216
- [viii] Ferraro PM, et. al. Dietary Protein and Potassium, Diet–Dependent Net Acid Load, and Risk of Incident Kidney Stones. CJASN. October 2016, 11 (10) 1834-1844; DOI: 10.2215/CJN.01520216
- [ix] National Institute of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Potassium.