14011 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Potassium

    IMAGE Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte. Electrolytes are compounds that are able to conduct an electrical current.

    Functions

    Potassium's functions include helping to:
    • Regulate fluids and mineral balance in and out of body cells
    • Maintain your normal blood pressure
    • Transmit nerve impulses
    • Make your muscles contract

    Recommended Intake

    Most people should aim to get close to 5,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day.
    Age Estimated Minimum Requirement of Potassium
    (mg)
    9-13 years 4,500
    > 13 years 4,700

    Potassium Deficiency

    Severe potassium deficiency leads to a low 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. Examples of these conditions include:
    • Excessive diarrhea or laxative use
    • Kidney problems
    • Use of certain blood pressure medicines
    • Continuous poor food intake (may occur due to alcoholism, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, very low calorie diets)
    Signs of a severe potassium deficiency include the following:
    If hypokalemia persists, it can lead to irregular heartbeat. This can dangerously decrease the heart's ability to pump blood.
    In addition, people who are on high blood pressure medicine should ask their doctor about the need for a potassium supplement.

    Potassium Toxicity

    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 (called hyperkalemia). Therefore, people with kidney problems need to closely monitor their potassium intake. Hyperkalemia can also lead to an irregular heartbeat. This can dangerously decrease the heart's ability to pump blood.

    Major Food Sources

    Potassium is found in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Less processed foods tend to have more potassium.
    Here are some examples of foods that are high in potassium:
    Food (amount) Serving Size Potassium Content
    (mg)
    White beans, canned 1/2 cup 595
    Potato, baked with skin 1 medium 610
    Lentils, cooked 1/2 cup 365
    Clams, canned and drained 3 ounces 534
    Yogurt, low fat, plain 1 cup 531
    Lima beans, cooked 1/2 cup 484
    Banana 1 medium 422
    Dried apricots 1/4 cup 378
    Cantaloupe 1/4 medium 368
    Tuna, yellowfin, cooked 3 ounces 484
    Honeydew melon 1/8 medium 365
    Winter squash ½ cup 448
    Cod, Pacific, cooked 3 ounces 439
    Spinach, cooked ½ cup 419
    Milk, fat-free 1 cup 382
    Kidney Beans, cooked ½ cup 358

    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 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, like sweet potato, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, spinach, among others.

    RESOURCES

    American Dietetic Association http://www.eatright.org/

    Health.gov http://www.health.gov/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition http://www.ccfn.ca/

    Dietitians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca/

    References

    Chapter 8 sodium and potassium. Health.gov website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/chapter8.htm. Updated July 9, 2008. Accessed April 18, 2012.

    Duyff RL. The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide . 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 2006.

    Food sources of potassium. Health.gov website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/appendixb.htm. Updated July 9, 2008. Accessed April 18, 2012.

    Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Accessed February 15, 2008.

    Hypokalemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Updated January 2, 2011. Accessed April 17, 2012.

    Garrison R, Somer E. The Nutrition Desk Reference. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing; 1995.

    Wardlaw G, Insel P. Perspectives in Nutrition . 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Year Book; 1993.

    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.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.


  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.