Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte. Electrolytes are compounds that are able to conduct an electrical current. In addition to potassium they include sodium and chloride.
- Helps regulate fluids and mineral balance in and out of body cells
- Helps maintain your normal blood pressure
- Helps transmit nerve impulses
- Helps your muscles contract
Most people should aim to get close to 5,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day. Adequate Intake (AI) levels for potassium have been established for people aged 9 and older.
Estimated minimum requirement of potassium
|> 13 yearss||4,700|
Severe potassium deficiency leads to a low blood potassium level in the blood, called hypokalemia. But a potassium deficiency is rare in healthy people. However, certain conditions can cause the body to lose significant amounts of potassium. These conditions include the following:
- Excessive vomiting, diarrhea, or laxative use
- Kidney problems
Use of certain blood pressure medications:
- Thiazide diuretics (such as hydrochlorothiazide)
- Loop diuretics (such as furosemide)
Continuous poor food intake which may occur due to the following:
- Anorexia nervosa or bulimia
- Very low calorie diets
Signs of a severe potassium deficiency include the following:
- Appetite loss
- Muscle cramps
If hypokalemia persists, it can lead to irregular heartbeat. This can dangerously decrease the heart's ability to pump blood.
People who are on medication for high blood pressure should ask their physician about the need for a potassium supplement.
Potassium is rarely toxic because excess amounts are usually excreted in the urine.
However, people with kidney problems may be unable to properly excrete potassium, allowing it to build up in the bloodstream. A high level of potassium in the bloodstream is called hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia can cause slowed heartbeats and may eventually cause the heart to stop beating. Therefore, people with kidney problems need to closely monitor their potassium intake.
Major Food Sources
Potassium is found in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Less processed foods tend to have more potassium.
|Food (amount)||Serving size||
|Dried figs||10 figs||1331|
|White beans, canned||1 cup||1189|
|Avocado, raw, California||1 medium||1097|
|Potato, baked with skin||1 medium||844|
|Navy beans, canned||1 cup||755|
|Raisins, seedless||2/3 cup||751|
|Lentils, boiled||1 cup||731|
|Clams, canned and drained||3 oz||534|
|Yogurt, low fat, plain||1 cup||531|
|Lima beans, canned||1 cup||530|
|Dried apricots||10 halves||482|
|Cantaloupe||1 cup pieces||494|
|Tuna, yellowfin, cooked by dry heat||3 oz||484|
|Swiss chard, boiled||½ cup||483|
|Orange juice, from frozen concentrate||8 fluid oz||473|
|Honeydew melon||1 cup pieces||461|
|Winter squash||½ cup cubes||446|
|Snapper, cooked by dry heat||3 oz||444|
|Cod, Pacific, cooked by dry heat||3 oz||440|
|Spinach, boiled||½ cup||419|
|Sweet potato, baked with skin||1 medium||397|
|Bell pepper, yellow, raw||1 large||394|
|Bass, freshwater, cooked by dry heat||3 oz||388|
|Milk, fat-free||8 fluid oz||380|
|Kidney Beans, cooked||½ cup||360|
|Pineapple, canned in juice||1 cup pieces||305|
|Tomato, red, stewed, canned||½ cup||305|
Potassium is believed to play an important role in the regulation of blood pressure. According to a review of 33 studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association, increasing potassium intake can produce a slight but definite drop in blood pressure levels. This effect, however, is unlikely to be strong enough to allow a reduction in blood pressure medication.
Tips for Increasing Your Potassium Intake
To help increase your intake of potassium:
- Eat legumes, such as black beans, lentils, and chickpeas, three times per week. Combine them with rice and vegetables and wrap in a warm tortilla.
- Make garden salads with half green lettuce and half fresh spinach.
- Eat fish as your entrée a few times per week.
- Snack on raisins and other dried fruits for a sweet fix.
- Use avocado on sandwiches or bagels in place of mayonnaise or cream cheese.
- Eat two brightly colored fruits and vegetables each day; these include sweet potato, Swiss chard, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, tomato, spinach, and yellow bell pepper, among others.
American Dietetic Association
USDA— Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
Dietitians of Canada
Duyff RL. The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 3rd Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 2006.
The Nutrition Desk Reference. Keats Publishing; 1995.
Perspectives in Nutrition. 2nd ed. Mosby–Year Book, Inc.; 1993.
Hypertension. DynaMed website. Available at: http://dynaweb.ebscohost.com/Detail.aspx?id=115345&sid=cdbf687a-f131-4b48-9503-549caa563192@sessionmgr3. Accessed February 15, 2008.
Whelton PK, He J, Cutler JA, et al. Effects of oral potassium on blood pressure. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. JAMA. 1997;277:1624–1632.
Last reviewed February 2008 by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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