Potassium plays a very important role in health and plays a role in nerve conduction, muscle contraction, electrolyte regulation and blood pressure regulation. Unfortunately, most Americans consume less than the daily recommendation for potassium. It is possible to reach the recommended daily potassium intake from the diet, but a diet high in processed, packaged foods will be low in potassium.
Here is more information about potassium intake recommendations, foods high in potassium and what potassium does in the body.
How much potassium should you have daily?
Here are daily potassium recommendations according to the Institute of Medicine for healthy people:
Children 1-3 years old: 3.0 grams/day
Children 4-8 years old: 3.8 grams/day
Children 9-13 years old: 4.5 grams/day
Children 14-18 years old: 4.7 grams/day
Adults over 19 years old: 4.7 grams/day
Women who are breast feeding: 5.1 grams/day
If someone has a disease or low blood levels of potassium, daily intake recommendations may vary.
Foods high in potassium
Potassium is found in many foods, but it is especially found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Here are some top food sources of potassium according to the USDA:
Sweet potato, baked: 694 mg
Tomato paste, ¼ c: 664 mg
Potato, baked: 610 mg
White beans, ½ c: 595 mg
8 oz plain yogurt: 579 mg
Other potassium rich foods include seafood, squash, bananas, spinach, tomatoes, pork chops melon and peas. It is possible to reach the RDA for potassium from diet alone if it is rich in fruits, vegetables, seafood, dairy products and beans.
For healthy people, getting potassium from foods is recommended over supplements, but if someone has hypokalemia (low blood potassium levels) they may need potassium supplements.
Why is potassium important?
A diet high in potassium is associated with reducing blood pressure. One of potassium’s roles is to balance fluids in the body. Getting adequate potassium intake can help regulate fluids in the body which may benefit blood pressure.
Potassium is also involved with muscle contraction, sending nerve signals, building new proteins, controlling heart beat and controlling acid base balance in the body.
What happens when it is too high or too low?
When potassium intake is too low, there is an increased risk for high blood pressure. Getting a diet rich in potassium can help lower high blood pressure.
Potassium is considered an electrolyte, and electrolytes can be lost through sweat, vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone with excessive sweat loss, vomiting or diarrhea may be at risk for altering electrolyte balance in the body, including potassium levels. When potassium levels are off, muscle cramps can occur.
If muscle cramps occur from electrolyte imbalance, eating a banana, drinking sports drink, juice or coconut water can help give a quick source of potassium or sodium.
Potassium intake can affect kidney health; according to Colorado State University Extension potassium intake in the diet is inversely related to risk for kidney stones. Eating a diet low in potassium and high in sodium can increase risk for kidney stones.
When potassium intake is severely limited over a long time or there is excessive potassium loss from severe sickness, diuretics or sweat loss, potassium deficiency can occur although it is not common. Potassium deficiency symptoms can include loss of appetite, muscle cramps, nausea and fatigue.
Having too much potassium in the body is rare because potassium is excreted when there is too much. However, use caution with supplements as getting too much potassium from supplements can cause toxic levels of potassium in the body. If someone has kidney problems, they also have an increased risk for potassium toxicity.
How to get more potassium
As mentioned, many Americans do not get the daily recommended amount of potassium in the diet. This is because many Americans rely on processed, packaged foods which are a poor source of potassium. Also, many Americans do not eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
You can increase your potassium intake by eating more fruits, vegetables, dairy, legumes and seafood. Following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute provides an easy guideline to increasing potassium in the diet.
Potassium is an important electrolyte that has many functions in the body that include in assisting in fluid balance, muscle contractions, sending nerve signals, building new muscles, controlling acid base balance and controlling muscle contractions.
It is possible to get adequate potassium intake through diet by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, seafood and dairy. Healthy adults need about 4.7 grams of potassium daily.
Dangerous side effects of not having adequate potassium levels include muscle cramps, increased risk for high blood pressure or developing kidney stones. Getting too much potassium is rare and usually caused by excessive intake of potassium supplements. Side effects from too high levels of potassium could be an irregular heart rhythm.
References used in this article