Are You Getting Enough Potassium?


Potassium Function and Deficiency


As the third most abundant mineral in the body, 80% of potassium is found in our muscle cells, while the other 20% is within our bones, liver, and red blood cells. Interestingly, this conductor of electricity (electrolyte) energizes our bodies.

According to Sunithi Selvaraj, RD, “There are two forms: Potassium chloride, which is taken as a dietary supplement and potassium citrate which is found naturally in many foods.”

An essential nutrition, potassium helps regulate fluid balance, nerve signals and muscle contractions. It is instrumental in activating nerve impulses that help regulate muscle contractions, heartbeat, reflexes, and many other processes. A potassium-rich diet may reduce blood pressure by helping the body remove excess sodium.

Muscle weakness, aches, stiffness, numbness (paresthesia), cramps, fatigue, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, digestive symptoms, and mood changes may be signs of potassium deficiency (hypokalemia). Deficiencies are more likely to occur when the body suddenly loses too much potassium. This may be marked by chronic vomiting and diarrhea.

Your blood potassium level is normally 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Having a blood potassium level higher than 6.0 mmol/L (hyperkalemia) can be dangerous and usually requires immediate treatment.

How To Get Daily Potassium

Many Americans do not consume enough potassium. You would need to eat 5 bananas, 3 avocados and 2 yams to approach the recommended daily intake (RDI) of potassium—a whopping 4,700 mg.

Vitamin supplements don’t help much since they usually max out around 99 mg. This is because potassium overdose can cause arrhythmia and even be fatal.

The good news is that most foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, are rich in potassium. Did you know that yams and avocados pack more potassium than bananas? A baked yam provides 12% of your minimum daily potassium requirement. Just 3.5 oz (100 g) of black beans represents a third of your daily requirement.

Food, Standard AmountPotas­sium (mg)Cal­o­ries
Black beans, 3.5 oz (100 g)1500339
Pinto beans, 3.5 oz (100 g)1393347
Potato, baked, flesh, 1 medium (213 g)897163
Salmon, half filet (198 g)719412
Sweet potato, baked, 1 medium (146 g)694131
Tomato paste, 4 oz (113 g)66454
Beet greens, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)65519
Coconut water, 8 oz (230 g)60045
White beans, canned, 8 oz (230 g)595153
Yogurt, plain, non-fat, 8 oz (230 g)579127
Tomato puree, 8 oz (230 g)54948
Clams, canned, 3 oz (85 g)534126
Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 8 oz (230 g)531143
Portobello muschroom, grilled, 1 cup (121 g)52938
Carrot juice, 12 oz (340 g)51771
Blackstrap molasses, 1 Tbsp49847
Butternut squash, 8 oz (230 g)49363
Halibut, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)490119
Soybeans, green, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)485127
Tuna, yellowfin, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)484118
Lima beans, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)484104
Broccoli, 1 serving (148 g)46850
Soybeans, mature, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)443149
Rockfish, Pacific, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)442103
Cod, Pacific, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)43989
Banana, 1 medium422105
Spinach, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)41921
Tomato juice, 12 oz (340 g)41731
Tomato sauce, 8 oz (230 g)40539
Peaches, dried, uncooked, 4 oz (113 g)39896
Prunes, stewed, 8 oz (230 g)398133
Milk, non-fat, 8 oz (230 g)38283
Pork chop, center loin, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)382197
Apricots, dried, uncooked, 4 oz (113 g)37878
Rainbow trout, farmed, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)375144
Pork loin, center rib (roasts), lean, roasted, 3 oz (85 g)371190
Buttermilk, cultured, low-fat, 8 oz (230 g)37098
Cantaloupe, ¼ medium36847
Milk 1% fat, 8 oz (230 g)366102
Honeydew melon, 1/8 medium36558
Lentils, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)365115
Plantains, cooked, ½ cup slices35890
Kidney beans, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)358112
Orange juice, 12 oz (340 g)35585
Split peas, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)355116
Yogurt, plain, whole milk, 8 oz container352138
Kale, 8 oz (230 g)32933
Watermelon, 1 serving (280 g)32485
Cauliflower, 3.5 oz (100 g)29925
Carrot, 1 medium (61 g)19525
Swiss chard, 1 cup (36 g)1367

You may sense the need to increase your potassium. With an abundant variety of potassium sources, consider varying the ways you consume it. Try infusing your diet with chocolate avocado banana breadavocado banana smoothies, beans, and baked yams.

Potassium Packed Smoothies
Potassium Packed Smoothies from Sue’s Nutrition Buzz

The bottom line is that if you eat three healthy meals per day you are unlikely to have a significant potassium shortage. If one does occur through malnutrition, there are a number of natural food sources without resorting to dietary supplements.

Severe malnutrition should be treated by a medical professional and may include intravenous supplementation. In such cases, potassium depletion will likely be one of several nutritional deficiencies.

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Updated: Dec 27, 2022

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