When I first got involved in this whole healthy eating thing, I analyzed the nutrients I was getting from food each day and compared those numbers to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. One of the biggest red flags was my lack of potassium. I came to the obvious conclusion that I needed to incorporate more foods high in potassium into my diet.
You probably do too. In fact, less than 2 percent of American adults get more than the recommended 4,700 milligrams per day.
So I decided to do some research on why potassium is so important and what high potassium foods I should be eating more of. Here’s what I found …
What is potassium?
Potassium is a mineral found in certain foods that’s critical to the proper functioning of nerves and muscles cells. Our bodies use potassium to build protein and muscle, break down carbohydrates, maintain cellular growth, control the electrical activity of the heart, and control its level of acidity.
How much potassium do you need?
The Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the following amounts of potassium:
In general, women who are breast feeding need slightly higher amounts (5100 mg/day) and should therefore seek out more foods high in potassium (after talking to their physicians, of course).
Effects of low potassium
Now let’s look at some low potassium symptoms and effects. A 2011 study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University, and Harvard University found that Americans who eat a diet high in sodium and low in potassium have a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause, and twice the risk of death from heart attacks!
A diet that includes plenty of foods high in potassium is important to help you control your blood pressure because potassium counteracts the effects of sodium.
When you have a low level of potassium in your blood, it’s referred to as “hypokalemia.” This condition can lead to weak muscles, abnormal heart rhythms, and increased blood pressure.
Effects of high potassium
There is such thing as too much potassium as well.
For example, those who suffer from chronic kidney disease or acute kidney failure can’t get rid of enough potassium in their urine because their kidneys may not work as well.
When this happens, it can lead to a condition called hyperkalemia, a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder. High potassium symptoms may include muscle fatigue, weakness, paralysis, heart arrhythmias, and nausea.
Other causes of hyperkalemia may include Addison’s disease, alcoholism or heavy drug use, use of ACE inhibitors, excessive use of potassium supplements, and type 1 diabetes.
Eating a low potassium diet can lower the risk of developing hyperkalemia. If you have one of the aforementioned conditions, talk to your doctor about what you should and shouldn’t be eating.
High potassium foods
Potassium is found in a lot of different foods. I included a detailed list of high potassium foods below but here’s a basic list broken down by food group:
Meat: Beef, chicken, and fish such as salmon, halibut, cod, and flounder are all good sources of potassium. Soy products and veggie burgers are also good sources.
Vegetables: Broccoli, corn, tomatoes, peas, beans, potatoes, green leafy vegetables, and sweet potatoes are your best bets for high potassium vegetables.
Fruits: Citrus fruits, bananas, melons, cantaloupe, kiwi, prunes, and apricots are your best options for fruits high in potassium.
Dairy: Milk and yogurt are excellent sources of potassium.
Grains: Barley, oat bran, and whole grain cereals are high potassium foods from the grains group.
List of foods high in potassium
Here’s a chart of the healthiest high potassium foods.
(source: USDA National Nutrient Database)
This article is #9 in my 9-part tutorial called “Healthy Eating 101”.
To read the previous article #8 about how much sodium you should eat each day click here.
If you’re ready for some more advanced topics (organic eating, gluten free eating, grass fed beef, etc.), check out my next 10-part tutorial “Healthy Eating 201”