What Is Potassium?
Potassium is a critical mineral necessary for the proper function of your cells. Your cells use sodium and potassium to maintain the necessary electrical environment inside and outside of cells so your nerves, muscles, and heart work properly.
Adequate daily intakes of potassium differ depending on your age:
- 0 to 6 months: 400 milligrams
- 7 to 12 months: 700 milligrams
- 1 to 3 years: 3,000 milligrams
- 4 to 8 years: 3,800 milligrams
- 9 to 13 years: 4,500 milligrams
Females between the ages of 14 and 18 who are pregnant should aim for 2,600 milligrams of potassium per day. Those who are lactating should aim for 2,500 milligrams of potassium per day.
Females between the ages of 19 and 50 who are pregnant should aim for 2,900 milligrams of potassium per day. Those who are lactating should aim for 2,800 milligrams of potassium per day.
Helps Slow Osteoporosis
Brittle bones are more common as you age. People in the US tend to eat lots of meat and dairy, which encourages acidity in the bone. Acidity may make your bones get weaker faster. Potassium-rich foods like fruits and vegetables counter this acidity and may help protect bones and slow down the development of osteoporosis.
Decreases the Risk of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are mineral deposits that build up in the kidneys. You may pass them when you urinate, and they hurt if they get stuck on the way out of your body. High tissue acidity increases the risk of kidney stones. Eating meat increases this acidity. Eating foods high in potassium helps decrease acidity and encourages calcium to stay in the bones so you don't develop bothersome kidney stones.
Helps Your Muscles Work
You need adequate potassium levels inside your cells and sodium outside of cells to enable muscle function. If your levels of sodium or potassium are off, you may develop muscle weakness or spasms due to imbalance.
Decreases the Risk of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a condition that stresses your veins and arteries. It increases the risk of heart disease, heart failure, and stroke. High blood pressure is called "the silent killer" because it rarely causes symptoms. Excess sodium may further exacerbate high blood pressure, but adequate potassium helps eliminate sodium and relaxes blood vessels.
Helps Prevent Strokes
Your brain has its blood supply cut off or restricted in the event of a stroke. Usually burst or blocked blood vessels cause strokes. Some strokes involve high blood pressure, so getting adequate potassium and keeping blood pressure down may help. Stroke signs may include weakness in one arm, slurred speech, and facial drooping on one side. Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you are with exhibits these symptoms.
Potassium in bananas can provide you with a good dose of this all-important mineral. One medium banana has 422 milligrams of potassium. If you don't like to eat bananas plain, make banana bread or add slices to cereal.
High potassium levels are found in potatoes. One medium potato eaten with the skin has 926 milligrams of potassium. Potatoes serve up a big dose of the mineral, but be careful about loading them up with unhealthy toppings like butter, sour cream, and bacon bits, which are high in saturated fat and calories.
If you want to be more regular and get a healthy dose of potassium, reach for high-fiber prunes that contain 637 milligrams of potassium per half cup. You can have some prune juice, too. Approximately 6 ounces of prune juice has 322 milligrams of the mineral. Many people like to eat prunes with nuts and cheese. They're great in baked goods, too.
Oranges and orange juice supply your body with potassium. One medium orange serves up 238 milligrams of potassium, while 6 ounces of orange juice supplies 372 milligrams of the mineral. Oranges also provide you with a healthy dose of vitamin C. Be mindful that they have sugar, so be careful if you are juicing them and do not go overboard.
If you have low potassium levels, you may want to load up on tomato products. One medium tomato has 292 milligrams of the mineral, but tomato sauce and tomato paste have much more. One cup of tomato paste has 2,657 milligrams of potassium. One cup of tomato purée has 1,098 milligrams of the mineral.
Load up on lima beans to get more fiber and potassium in your diet. These beans have 478 milligrams of potassium in one half-cup. Soak lima beans so they are easier to digest or look for canned and frozen varieties.
Sunflower seeds are a good high potassium snack to add to your diet. The seeds have 137 milligrams of potassium per ounce. Sunflower seeds are rich in additional vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, too.
Doctors agree it is preferable to get potassium from the food you eat, but some people may need to take a potassium supplement. Potassium chloride is one widely available supplemental form of potassium that people use as a salt substitute. Supplementing with potassium should only be done on the advice of your physician. Other popular forms of supplemental potassium include potassium citrate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium gluconate, potassium aspartate, and potassium orotate. Be careful with potassium supplements. They can be associated with potentially serious side effects.
Lack of Potassium (Hypokalemia)
Low potassium (hypokalemia) has many effects on the body. You may feel weak, tired, crampy, and suffer from constipation. Many people do not get sufficient potassium in their diet. Others may become deficient in the mineral due to diarrhea, vomiting, alcohol abuse, or from misusing or overusing diuretics or laxatives.
Too Much Potassium (Hyperkalemia)
If you have too much potassium or hyperkalemia it may produce symptoms like muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, or nausea. Hormone problems or taking certain drugs may result in elevated potassium levels. Doctors treat hyperkalemia with certain medications or with dialysis, which removes waste from the blood that the kidneys normally do.