Potassium is an essential mineral and an electrolyte. It is found in various unrefined foods, including:
- Leafy vegetables
- Fish such as salmon
Approximately 98% of the potassium in the body is in the cell. Of these, 80% are found in skeletal muscle, and 20% are found in bones, red blood cells and liver .
This mineral plays an indispensable role in various processes in the body. It is involved in muscle contraction, heart function and fluid balance .
Despite its importance, many people do not get enough of this mineral .
A diet rich in potassium can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones and osteoporosis, among other benefits .
Most adults do not consume enough potassium .
In many countries, this deficiency is attributed to the Western diet, possibly because it often includes processed foods, which are poor sources of this mineral .
However, just because people don't get enough doesn't mean they are flawed.
Potassium deficiency, also called hypokalemia, is characterized by blood potassium levels below 3.6 mmol/L.
Surprisingly, a lack of potassium in the diet rarely leads to a deficiency .
This usually happens when the body loses too much potassium, such as chronic diarrhea or vomiting.
If you take diuretics, you may also lose potassium. Diuretics are drugs that increase the excretion of water from the body .
The following are symptoms depending on how low your potassium level is .
- Mildly lacking. It occurs when a person's blood level is 3–3.5 mmol/l. It usually causes no symptoms.
- Moderately lacking. Occurs at 2.5–3 mmol/l. Symptoms include cramps, muscle pain, weakness and discomfort.
- severely lacking. Occurs below 2.5 mmol/l. Symptoms include irregular heartbeat and paralysis.
The best way to increase potassium intake is through diet.
Potassium is found in various whole foods, mainly fruits and vegetables.
Due to insufficient evidence on minerals, nutrition experts have not yet determined the recommended dietary intake (RDA) or estimated average requirement (EAR) .
RDA is the daily intake of nutrients that may meet the needs of 97-98% of healthy people. EAR is an estimated average daily amount established to meet the needs of 50% of healthy people .
Here are some foods that are excellent sources of potassium and their content in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving :
- Tomato products, canned, paste: 1,014 mg
- Beet, cooked: 909 mg
- Yam, baked: 670 mg
- Potatoes, russet, baked with skin: 550 mg
- Spinach, raw: 558 mg
- Cooked soybeans: 539 mg
- Avocado: 485 mg
- Sweet potatoes, baked: 475 mg
- Salmon, Atlantic, farmed cooked: 384 mg
- Banana: 358 mg
A diet rich in potassium is associated with some impressive health benefits.
It can prevent or alleviate various health problems, including:
- hypertension. Many studies have shown that a diet rich in potassium can lower blood pressure, especially for patients with high blood pressure .
- Salt sensitivity. People with this disease may increase their blood pressure by 10% after taking salt. A diet rich in potassium can eliminate salt sensitivity .
- Stroke. A number of studies have shown that a diet rich in potassium can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 27%.
- Osteoporosis. Studies have shown that a diet rich in potassium may help prevent osteoporosis, a disease associated with an increased risk of fractures.
- Kidney stones. Studies have found that compared with a low-potassium diet, a diet rich in potassium is associated with a significantly lower risk of kidney stones.
Your daily potassium requirement depends on many factors, including your health and activity level. Research also shows that the daily potassium intake of different races may vary.
Even without the RDA for potassium, organizations around the world still recommend at least 3,500 mg per day through food .
One of these organizations is the World Health Organization (WHO). Certain countries, including Spain, Mexico, Belgium, and the United Kingdom, support this recommendation.
Other countries, including the United States, recommend at least 4,700 mg per day .
Interestingly, when people consume more than 4,700 mg per day, there seems to be little or no additional health benefits .
However, there are a few groups of people who may benefit more from meeting higher recommendations than others. These people include:
- athlete. Those who participate in prolonged vigorous exercise may lose a lot of potassium through sweat .
- Black person. Studies have found that 4,700 mg of potassium per day can eliminate salt sensitivity, and studies have shown that this has a greater impact on blacks than whites .
- High-risk groups. People at risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis or stroke may benefit from a daily intake of at least 4,700 mg of potassium .
Surprisingly, potassium supplements are usually not an important source of this mineral.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits over-the-counter potassium chloride supplements to less than 100 mg per serving-only 2% of the recommended daily amount in the United States .
However, this does not apply to other forms of potassium supplements.
Taking too much of this mineral will cause too much mineral to accumulate in the blood, which is called hyperkalemia. In some cases, this can cause an irregular heartbeat, called arrhythmia, which can be fatal .
In addition, studies have found that providing high-dose potassium supplements may damage the lining of the intestinal tract .
However, people who are deficient or at risk of deficiency may need high-dose potassium supplements. In these cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe higher doses of supplements and monitor any reactions to you.
High levels of potassium in the blood are called hyperkalemia. This condition is characterized by a blood concentration higher than 5.0 millimoles per liter, which can be dangerous.
For a healthy adult, there is no obvious evidence that potassium in food can cause hyperkalemia .
For this reason, there is no tolerable upper intake of potassium in food. This is the maximum amount a healthy adult can consume in a day without negative effects .
Hyperkalemia usually affects people with poor kidney function or people who take drugs that may affect kidney function.
This is because the kidneys remove excess potassium. Therefore, decreased kidney function may cause this mineral in the blood .
However, poor kidney function is not the only cause of hyperkalemia. Taking too much potassium supplements may also cause it .
Compared with food, potassium supplements are small and easy to take. Taking too much may overwhelm the kidneys' ability to remove excess potassium .
In addition, there are several groups of people who may need less of this mineral than others, including:
- People with chronic kidney disease. This disease increases the risk of hyperkalemia. People with chronic kidney disease should ask their healthcare provider how much potassium is suitable for them .
- People taking antihypertensive drugs. Some blood pressure medications, such as ACE inhibitors, may increase the risk of hyperkalemia. People taking these drugs may need to pay attention to potassium intake .
- The elderly. As people get older, their kidney function will decline. Older people are also more likely to take drugs that affect the risk of hyperkalemia .
Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte related to heart function, muscle contraction and water balance.
High intake may help reduce high blood pressure, salt sensitivity, and stroke risk. In addition, it can prevent osteoporosis and kidney stones.
Although potassium is important, few people in the world can get enough potassium. A healthy adult should consume 3,500-4,700 mg per day from food.
To increase your intake, add potassium-rich foods to your diet, such as spinach, yams, avocados, bananas, and fish, such as salmon.