Potassium is an electrolyte used to regulate and maintain the fluid, mineral and electrical balance in the body; including blood sugar. It supports good heart health by counteracting the effects of sodium and helps to reduce and maintain blood pressure while reducing the risk of stroke. It also plays an important role in skeletal and muscle contraction which further supports a healthy heart.
Maintaining normal potassium levels reduces most muscle disorders like muscle cramping, while strengthening muscles. It is required for the healthy function of muscular tissue and several organs. Potassium also supports cell health and blood vessels by reducing blood clotting and helping to move nutrients into cells, while moving waste out.
Potassium supports digestive health by providing good metabolism and food processing function, increasing the amount of nutrients absorbed from food. Potassium also helps to transmit nerve impulses and stimulate neural activity, as well can help to reduce anxiety and stress.
Characteristics of a Potassium Deficiency
Potassium deficiencies can be characterized by muscle weakness, spasms, cramps, stiffness, aching and tenderness. A numbness, tingling or a burning sensation sometimes can be felt in the hands or feet. IBD symptoms like abdominal bloating, pain and cramping are also common.
Low potassium levels can also cause heavy heart palpitations and rhythm abnormalities like a racing heart or missed beats. These conditions can be life-threatening as they can cause cardiac arrest. A person’s blood pressure can also be affected causing it to elevate as well as drop, which can cause dizziness and fainting.
Kidney function can be hampered by low potassium levels, which can result in an excessive loss of water from the body resulting in frequent urination and a feeling of extreme thirst. A serious ongoing potassium deficiency can result in diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, malnutrition and worsening of malabsorption syndromes like Crohn’s. A person can even experience paralysis where muscles go completely limp.
Potassium toxicity can occur which can also result in kidney failure in the most serious cases. Heavy alcohol and drug use can cause your muscles to break down releasing too much potassium in to your blood. Chemotherapy drugs have also been found to cause increased levels of potassium production in the body. Symptoms of high potassium levels include fatigue and weakness, numbness and tingling, nausea and vomiting, breathing difficulty, chest pain and abnormal heart rhythms.
Potassium Food Sources
Fortunately there are many food sources for this essential nutrient. Root vegetables like yams, potatoes and beets, along with cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts and bok choy, as well legumes, spinach and many types of fruits are all excellent source for this essential nutrient.
Nutrient-Rich Whole Food Sources for Potassium
This chart lists the best food sources for potassium, along with that food source’s single serving size and the amount of potassium in every single serving.
Potassium Daily Intake Recommendations for Child and Adult
These figures are referenced from the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) 2005 system; used in Canada and the United States. The DRI system provides the minimum daily intake requirements of vitamins, minerals and nutrients for child and adult; males and females.
To find out what your daily intake requirements are for all of the essential nutrients, see the article Essential Nutrients and Beneficial Foods, posted January 16, 2017.
Try our Potato Basil Gnocchi recipe! Potatoes are an excellent whole food source for the essential nutrient potassium.
Written by: J. Marshall
• Canadian Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.ca
• The World’s Healthiest Foods: www.whfoods.com
• University of Maryland Medical Center: umm.edu
• Global Healing Center: www.globalhealingcenter.com
• Web MD: www.webmd.com
• Health Line: http://www.healthline.com/health/high-potassium-hyperkalemia#Symptoms3
• Health Canada: Dietary Reference Intake Tables: http://hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/index-eng.php
• Health Canada / Food Labelling: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/labelling/food-labelling-for-industry/nutrition-labelling/information-within-the-nutrition-facts-table/eng/1389198568400/1389198597278?chap=6
• U.S. Department of Health & Human Services / Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI): https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Dietary_Reference_Intakes.aspx