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 Amount||Potassium (mg)||Calories|
|Black beans, 3.5 oz (100 g)||1500||339|
|Pinto beans, 3.5 oz (100 g)||1393||347|
|Potato, baked, flesh, 1 medium (213 g)||897||163|
|Salmon, half filet (198 g)||719||412|
|Sweet potato, baked, 1 medium (146 g)||694||131|
|Tomato paste, 4 oz (113 g)||664||54|
|Beet greens, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)||655||19|
|Coconut water, 8 oz (230 g)||600||45|
|White beans, canned, 8 oz (230 g)||595||153|
|Yogurt, plain, non-fat, 8 oz (230 g)||579||127|
|Tomato puree, 8 oz (230 g)||549||48|
|Clams, canned, 3 oz (85 g)||534||126|
|Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 8 oz (230 g)||531||143|
|Portobello muschroom, grilled, 1 cup (121 g)||529||38|
|Carrot juice, 12 oz (340 g)||517||71|
|Blackstrap molasses, 1 Tbsp||498||47|
|Butternut squash, 8 oz (230 g)||493||63|
|Halibut, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)||490||119|
|Soybeans, green, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)||485||127|
|Tuna, yellowfin, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)||484||118|
|Lima beans, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)||484||104|
|Broccoli, 1 serving (148 g)||468||50|
|Soybeans, mature, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)||443||149|
|Rockfish, Pacific, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)||442||103|
|Cod, Pacific, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)||439||89|
|Banana, 1 medium||422||105|
|Spinach, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)||419||21|
|Tomato juice, 12 oz (340 g)||417||31|
|Tomato sauce, 8 oz (230 g)||405||39|
|Peaches, dried, uncooked, 4 oz (113 g)||398||96|
|Prunes, stewed, 8 oz (230 g)||398||133|
|Milk, non-fat, 8 oz (230 g)||382||83|
|Pork chop, center loin, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)||382||197|
|Apricots, dried, uncooked, 4 oz (113 g)||378||78|
|Rainbow trout, farmed, cooked, 3 oz (85 g)||375||144|
|Pork loin, center rib (roasts), lean, roasted, 3 oz (85 g)||371||190|
|Buttermilk, cultured, low-fat, 8 oz (230 g)||370||98|
|Cantaloupe, ¼ medium||368||47|
|Milk 1% fat, 8 oz (230 g)||366||102|
|Honeydew melon, 1/8 medium||365||58|
|Lentils, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)||365||115|
|Plantains, cooked, ½ cup slices||358||90|
|Kidney beans, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)||358||112|
|Orange juice, 12 oz (340 g)||355||85|
|Split peas, cooked, 8 oz (230 g)||355||116|
|Yogurt, plain, whole milk, 8 oz container||352||138|
|Kale, 8 oz (230 g)||329||33|
|Watermelon, 1 serving (280 g)||324||85|
|Cauliflower, 3.5 oz (100 g)||299||25|
|Carrot, 1 medium (61 g)||195||25|
|Swiss chard, 1 cup (36 g)||136||7|
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 bread, avocado banana smoothies, beans, and baked yams.
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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