Potassium is a vital mineral your body needs. Consuming between 3,500 and 4,700 milligrams daily from foods like tomatoes, spinach, and sweet potatoes can help reduce the risk of kidney stones, stroke, and elevated blood pressure.
It’s one of the most plentiful minerals in your body and is crucial for various bodily functions.
But, surprisingly, most people don’t get enough. Nearly 98% of American adults fall short of the recommended daily amount.
This article explains how much potassium you should get daily and why it’s important for your well-being.
What is potassium?
Potassium is a crucial mineral and also functions as an electrolyte. You can find it in a range of whole foods like:
- green veggies
- fish, such as salmon
About 98% of your body’s potassium is stored in your cells. Within these cells, 80% is in your muscles, while the remaining 20% is in bones, red blood cells, and your liver.
This essential mineral is a key player in multiple bodily functions. It helps with muscle movements, keeps your heart working properly, and maintains fluid levels.
Even though it’s so important, a lot of people don’t get enough potassium in their diet.
Eating foods high in potassium can help lower your risks of conditions like high blood pressure, kidney stones, and brittle bones, among other health benefits.
Summary: Potassium is a vital mineral and electrolyte in the body. It aids in muscle movement, ensures the heart functions well and helps regulate fluid balance.
Is potassium deficiency common?
Many adults aren’t getting their recommended intake of potassium.
This shortfall is often linked to Western diets in numerous countries, primarily because these diets are packed with processed foods with little potassium content.
However, not meeting the daily potassium intake doesn’t necessarily lead to a deficiency.
A true potassium deficiency, termed hypokalemia, is when blood potassium drops below 3.6 mmol per liter.
It’s noteworthy that dietary shortfalls in potassium don’t typically cause hypokalemia.
The condition generally arises when the body loses an excessive amount of potassium, like during prolonged bouts of diarrhea or vomiting.
Taking diuretics, medications that flush out water from the body, can also lead to potassium loss.
Depending on the severity of the deficiency, here are the signs:
- Mild deficiency. Occurs when blood levels hover between 3–3.5 mmol/l. Symptoms are usually not present.
- Moderate deficiency. Levels are at 2.5–3 mmol/l. One might experience muscle pain, cramps, weakness, and discomfort.
- Severe deficiency. When levels dip below 2.5 mmol/l, symptoms can range from irregular heart rhythms to paralysis.
Summary: While many adults don’t consume enough potassium, deficiencies are rare and come with specific symptoms.
The best dietary sources of potassium
The most effective way to boost your potassium levels is by focusing on your diet.
Potassium is abundant in many whole foods, especially fruits and veggies.
Despite limited research about the mineral, experts haven’t yet established a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or an Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for potassium.
An RDA represents the daily nutrient amount expected to suffice for 97–98% of healthy individuals. On the other hand, EAR is the daily nutrient level estimated to meet the needs of half the healthy population.
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Here’s a list of foods that are rich in potassium, along with the amount they contain in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving:
- canned tomato paste: 1,014 mg
- cooked beet greens: 909 mg
- baked yams: 670 mg
- baked Russet potatoes with skin: 550 mg
- raw spinach: 558 mg
- cooked soybeans: 539 mg
- avocado: 485 mg
- baked sweet potato: 475 mg
- cooked Atlantic salmon, farmed: 384 mg
- bananas: 358 mg
Summary: A range of whole foods like canned tomato products, beet greens, yams, potatoes, and raw spinach are rich in potassium.
Health benefits of potassium
Eating foods high in potassium comes with numerous health advantages.
It could help prevent or ease several health concerns, including:
- High blood pressure. A diet abundant in potassium has been proven to decrease blood pressure levels, particularly for those who already have elevated levels.
- Salt sensitivity. Individuals with this issue can see a 10% rise in blood pressure after consuming salt. A potassium-packed diet could neutralize this effect.
- Stroke. Research shows that diets rich in potassium can cut stroke risks by as much as 27%.
- Osteoporosis. A potassium-rich diet is shown to help guard against osteoporosis, a condition that raises the likelihood of bone fractures.
- Kidney stones. Eating more potassium has been linked with a substantially lower chance of developing kidney stones compared to low-potassium diets.
Summary: Consuming a diet that’s high in potassium can help lower high blood pressure, neutralize salt sensitivity, reduce the risk of stroke, prevent osteoporosis, and lower the likelihood of kidney stones.
How much potassium should you consume per day?
How much potassium you need each day can be influenced by factors like your overall health and your activity. Studies also suggest that potassium needs can differ among ethnic groups.
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While there’s no officially recommended dietary allowance for potassium, various organizations globally advise taking at least 3,500 mg daily from food.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is one such organization, and some countries like Spain, Mexico, Belgium, and the UK back this suggestion.
In contrast, the United States recommends a daily intake of at least 4,700 mg.
Intriguingly, going beyond the 4,700 mg daily mark doesn’t seem to offer additional health perks.
However, some specific groups may find greater benefits from hitting the higher target. These include:
- Athletes. High-intensity and prolonged physical activity can result in substantial potassium loss through sweating.
- Black individuals. Research shows that consuming 4,700 mg of potassium daily can counteract salt sensitivity, which disproportionately affects Black people compared to white people.
- High-risk populations. Those at risk for conditions like high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis, or stroke might find it beneficial to aim for at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily.
Summary: The general guideline for adults is to aim for a daily potassium intake of 4,700 mg, obtained through foods.
Should you take potassium supplements?
Interestingly, potassium supplements often don’t provide a substantial amount of this vital mineral.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricts over-the-counter potassium chloride supplements to under 100 mg per dose, which is just 2% of the daily recommendation in the U.S.
This limit doesn’t apply to other types of potassium supplements, though.
Overconsumption can lead to a dangerous buildup of potassium in the blood, a condition known as hyperkalemia. This can result in a life-threatening irregular heartbeat, also known as cardiac arrhythmia.
Additionally, research indicates that high-dose potassium supplements can harm the gut lining.
That said, if you’re deficient or at risk for a deficiency, a healthcare provider might recommend a higher-dose potassium supplement and will likely monitor you for any side effects.
Summary: For most healthy adults, potassium supplements aren’t a necessity. However, those with a deficiency might need a prescription for a higher-dose supplement.
How much potassium is too much?
Having too much potassium in your blood is known as hyperkalemia, and it’s marked by a blood level that goes over 5.0 mmol per liter. This can be a risky situation.
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For a generally healthy person, it’s uncommon to get hyperkalemia from eating foods rich in potassium. That’s why there’s no established upper intake level for potassium when it comes from food.
The condition mainly affects people who have compromised kidney function or those on medications that can influence how well the kidneys work.
Your kidneys are responsible for flushing out excess potassium. So if they’re not working well, you could end up with too much of this mineral in your blood.
But it’s not just impaired kidneys that can cause hyperkalemia. Overdoing it with potassium supplements could also be the culprit.
Unlike potassium-rich foods, supplements are small and easy to consume in large amounts, which could overwhelm the kidneys.
Certain groups should be particularly cautious about their potassium intake, such as:
- People with chronic kidney issues. If you have this condition, your risk of developing hyperkalemia is higher. Consult your healthcare provider for personalized advice.
- Individuals on certain blood pressure meds. Some medications like ACE inhibitors can elevate your risk of hyperkalemia. If you’re on these meds, monitor your potassium intake.
- The elderly. Kidney function often declines with age, and older adults are more likely to be on medications that could lead to hyperkalemia.
Summary: While it’s hard for a healthy person to consume too much potassium from foods, those with kidney issues, certain medications, or older age may need to be more cautious.
Potassium is a crucial mineral and electrolyte that plays a big role in keeping your heart healthy, your muscles moving, and your fluids balanced.
Eating more potassium can offer great health perks like lower blood pressure, reduced sensitivity to salt, and a smaller chance of suffering a stroke. It can also help keep your bones strong and reduce the risk of kidney stones.
But here’s the catch: not many people are getting enough of this critical mineral. Aim to get between 3,500 and 4,700 mg of potassium daily from food if you’re a generally healthy adult.
Boosting your potassium is as simple as adding some high-potassium foods to your meals. Think about tossing some spinach into your salad, enjoying a baked yam as a side, slicing avocado onto your toast, peeling a banana for a snack, or grilling up some salmon for dinner.