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Dietary Potassium

By Edited Apr 26, 2016 2 0

When we eat, we consume more than simply the macronutrients carbohydrates, proteins and fat. The food also provides micronutrients. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper body function. It is easy to consume enough macronutrients to keep a person’s body functioning. The problems begin when people try to lose weight by cutting calories. Excessive caloric restriction leads to reduced micronutrients, not just calories. One of the depleted nutrients is potassium (scientific symbol “K”.)

Banana in Hand
Credit: By ProjectManhattan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What Is Potassium and What Does It Do

The body uses nutrients for many purposes. Cell creation and repair require many nutrients. The body uses others create hormones, proteins and other necessary components. Some also play a vital role in the body’s electrical pathways. They act like organic telephone wires and are especially important in proper muscle function. These elements are electrolytes. The main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and chloride. Most people worry about eating too much sodium. Fewer people are aware that having the correct potassium level has greater importance.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center [2], the recommended daily potassium intake is (in milligrams):


  • Adults, 19 years and older: 4,700 
  • Pregnant women: 4,700 
  • Breastfeeding women: 5,100


  • Birth to 6 months: 400 
  • 7 months to 12 months: 700
  • 1 to 3 years: 3,000
  • 4 to 8 years: 3,800 
  • 9-19 years: 4,500

Unfortunately, a 2012 study from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that people are not getting enough. The average daily intake across all ages and genders is 2640mg. The range is from the low of 2008mg (females age 12-19) to high at 3406mg (males ages 40-59.) [3]

Compromised body function will follow low potassium levels. It plays a role in many body systems. Potassium helps create the electrical charge to pass nerve impulses from the brain to the body, and it works with sodium to create an efficient heartbeat. It also balances with sodium in the blood stream. Too little allows sodium to keep water in the system, increasing blood pressure. It also is necessary for protein creation, carbohydrate metabolism and muscle cell growth. [4] 

Hypokalemia is the term for very low potassium blood levels. Over time, you can develop nervous system problems, like fatigue, confusion, and lack of coordination. Muscle irregularities follow, such as cramps, weakness, and constipation. Finally, hypokalemia can cause an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to death. [1][5]

How To Avoid Potassium Problems

The most common reason for low blood levels of potassium is from medications, specifically water pills (diuretics) and laxatives. Both push electrolytes out of the body faster than is safe. If you are using medications like that, you should talk to your doctor and ask if your blood potassium levels are adequate. Medical conditions can also cause this, like diabetic ketoacidosis, kidney disease or chronic diarrhea. Again, these are questions that require a medical consult with your physician. [5] Use supplements with caution and only after a discussion with your physician. Never give a potassium supplement to a child unless prescribed by a physician.

In a normal situation, a person’s diet rarely causes this problem. However, there are specific situations that can make someone more likely to develop an electrolyte imbalance. The common wisdom is that people should eat a healthy, balanced diet. This includes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, meats, some dairy products and oils. Severely restricting any of those will create an imbalanced diet. Some people try to eat very low carbohydrate diets and over time, that can lead to these problems. Very high protein diets also increase the risk of low potassium levels. [1] Extreme water consumption can also flush it out of the body. Fad diets that promote rapid weight loss are not the safe choices for long term health.

Fill your menu with complex carbohydrates, proteins and good fats.  Eat a calorie budget that is not too low. Those two steps will give your body enough food to make electrolyte problems less likely.

Where To Find Potassium In Your Diet

We all know that bananas contain potassium. Most people do not realize there are many foods with even more. All the foods on this list belong on a balanced diet and will aid in reaching your weight loss goals.



Potassium in milligrams (mg)

Baked Potato, with skin

2 ½ - 3 inch


Winter Squash, cooked

1 cup


Sweet Potato, baked with skin

1 Medium


Beet Greens, cooked

½ cup


White Beans, canned, drained

½ cup


Molasses, blackstrap

1 tablespoon


Orange Juice

1 cup


Halibut, cooked

3 ounces


Broccoli, cooked

1 cup



1 medium



1 cup


Yogurt, plain, non-fat

6 ounces


Milk 1%

1 cup



3 ounces


Carrots, Baby, raw



Quinoa, cooked

1 cup


Spinach, cooked from frozen

½ cup



¼ medium


Kale, raw

1 cup


Pistachios, shelled, dry roasted

1 ounce



¼ cup


Chicken Breast, skinless, cooked

3 ounces


Wild Rice, cooked

1 cup


Oatmeal, regular, cooked

1 cup


Tomato, fresh

½ medium


Ipomoea Batatas 006
Credit: Llez - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Other Suggestions

Potassium is not a food label requirement yet, but more food producers are listing it. Learn to read food labels carefully. Try to choose items that are low in sodium and high in potassium when possible. Eating food in a state as close to natural as possible will help keep all nutrients. If you eat baked potatoes, eat the skin. The skin contains all potassium and other nutrients. When cooking food, some methods rinse out potassium more than others. Boiling will eliminate most electrolytes and vitamins, leaving only carbs. Steaming is better than boiling, but dry-cooking preserves the most nutrients. Roasting, grilling, sautéing and broiling will leave more of the nutrients intact. Those same methods are also good choices to enhance the natural flavors of the meats. It also brings out the sweetness of the vegetables, allowing you to use less salt for flavoring.

Adding more of these foods to your daily menu, properly preparing them, and eating a reasonable number of calories will help you remain healthy.



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  1. Stevens, A., Robinson, D.P., Turpin, J., Groshong, T., Tobias, J.D. "Sudden Cardiac Death of an Adolescent During Dieting." Southern Medical Journal. 95 (2002): 1032-1041.
  2. Erhlich, S. D. "Potassium: Overview." University of Maryland Medical Center. 5/8/2015. 9/01/2016 <Web >
  3. Hoy, M.K., Goldman, J.D. "Potassium Intake of the U.S. Population." US Department of Agriculture. 9/01/2016 <Web >
  4. Haas, E.M. "Role of Potassium in Maintaining Health." Periodic Paralysis International. 17/7/2011. 9/01/2016 <Web >
  5. "Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)." Mayo Clinic. 9/01/2016 <Web >
  6. "Got Potassium?." WebMD. 9/01/2016 <Web >

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