Potassium is an essential nutrient that helps maintain normal fluid levels inside our cells. It is closely related to sodium, which helps maintain normal fluid levels outside of cells. Potassium also helps muscles to contract and supports normal blood pressure. In this article, we will discuss the role that potassium plays in the body and share the best dietary sources of potassium.
What Is Potassium?
Potassium is an essential mineral that the body needs to function correctly. Most people often overlook the importance of this mineral, but its role in the body is significant.
Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body. It is classified as an electrolyte, producing positively charged ions when dissolved in water. This allows it to conduct electricity, essential for many body processes such as fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals.
Nearly 98% of the potassium in the body is found inside of our cells—with 80% existing in muscle cells and the remainder in blood, bone, and liver cells.
What Are The Benefits of Potassium?
Potassium has many essential benefits for the body. One of its most important functions is helping to regulate fluid balance in the body. A significant amount of the water in our bodies—nearly 40%—exists within our cells in a substance called intracellular fluid (ICF). The remaining 60% exists outside our cells in spinal fluid, blood, lymph, and extracellular fluid (ECF).
The balance of water in the ICF and ECF is primarily determined by the concentration of electrolytes in the body—particularly potassium and sodium. Potassium is the primary electrolyte found in the ICF, while sodium is the primary electrolyte in the ECF. Potassium determines the water inside our cells, while sodium determines the amount outside our cells.
Under normal conditions, there is a healthy balance between these two. However, if there is an imbalanced ratio, water will move to the side with more electrolyte concentrations. This can either result in the shrinking of cells or swelling—depending on whether water is moving into or out of the cells.
For this reason, it is essential to maintain a healthy fluid balance by consuming the proper electrolytes. Unfortunately, in the standard American diet, most people consume far too much sodium and not enough potassium. Because of this, many people suffer from cellular dehydration—and most are unaware of this.
Not only is potassium critical for maintaining a healthy fluid balance, but it also has many other benefits for the body, such as:
- Supports nervous system health
- Regulates muscle contractions
- May prevent kidney stones
- May prevent osteoporosis
- Helps reduce blood pressure
- May protect against strokes
- Reduces water retention
How Much Potassium Do I Need?
Despite its importance for many body functions, most people are not getting enough potassium in their diet. Therefore, it is recommended that the average adult aim to consume between 3,500 and 4,700 mg of potassium daily. To increase your potassium intake, aim to incorporate more foods in your diet known to be high sources of potassium.
What Are Good Sources of Potassium in Food?
Consuming food sources of potassium is the best way to ensure that you get enough of this critical nutrient. Some of the best food sources of potassium include:
1. Beet Greens
Beet greens are one of the best sources of potassium in food. Just one cup of cooked beet greens contains 290 mg. A cup of these greens is a small amount, so consuming a healthy serving of steamed beet greens can go a long way in helping you meet your daily potassium needs.
When it comes to the best food sources of potassium, most people think about bananas first. While there are many other natural sources of potassium, bananas certainly are a great one. Just one medium-sized banana contains approximately 422 mg of potassium.
Yams, or sweet potatoes, are another one of the top organic sources of potassium. One average-sized yam contains about 450 mg of potassium.
4. White Potatoes
Potatoes are an exceptional source of potassium. Just one medium-sized russet potato contains an impressive 897 mg of potassium. That’s nearly half of the recommended daily amount.
Avocado is another good source of potassium, with just one avocado providing 485 mg.
6. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are those in the Brassica family of plants like kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. These plant foods are great sources of potassium. For example, 1 cup of chopped kale offers around 329 mg of potassium; 1 cup of broccoli provides around 230 mg; 1 cup of Brussels sprouts contains roughly 495 mg, and 1 cup of cauliflower provides 320 mg.
7. Portobello Mushrooms
Portobello mushrooms are another excellent food source of potassium. One large Portobello mushroom provides about 520 mg of potassium.
Spinach is an amazing source of potassium. It is one of the highest sources of potassium, with just one cup of spinach providing 839 mg of potassium!
9. Pinto Beans
Another great potassium source is pinto beans. For example, 1 cup of cooked pinto beans provides roughly 645 mg potassium.
Peas also contain quite a bit of potassium. One cup of cooked peas provides 271 mg of potassium.
While most food sources of potassium are plant foods, fish can also provide potassium—especially salmon. Half a fillet of salmon provides 719 mg of potassium.
High Potassium Meals
If you are looking to ensure you are getting enough potassium in your diet (which is a good idea if you know you haven’t been eating many potassium-rich foods), it can be helpful to come up with meal plans centered around this nutrient. But, of course, it is important not to neglect other essential nutrients. Still, thankfully, many potassium-rich foods also contain a good amount of other essential vitamins and minerals.
An example of some meals that are high in potassium include:
- 2 Bananas
- 1 cup spinach (raw)
- 1 cup blueberries (contains 113 mg of potassium)
- Juice of 1 orange squeezed (contains 172 mg of potassium)
- 2 tbsp of hemp protein powder (contains 246 mg of potassium)
Roasted Potato Medley
- One diced russet potato
- One diced yam
- olive oil
- sea salt
- Grilled salmon
- Side of steamed beet greens and broccoli
- One baked russet potato
These are just a few examples, but hopefully, it gives a good idea of how to incorporate these potassium-rich foods into your diet. But, of course, there are plenty of other ways to get creative with these foods in the kitchen.
Can You Get Too Much Potassium?
Consuming too much potassium is very rare. Less than 2% of Americans are estimated to meet the US recommendation for potassium. While a low potassium intake rarely causes a deficiency, getting the recommended amount of potassium can improve many areas of health.
Actual potassium deficiencies usually happen when the body experiences a sudden loss of potassium through conditions like chronic diarrhea, vomiting, or severe water loss.
Getting too much potassium is uncommon but can occur if you take too many potassium supplements. This is why it is recommended to get your potassium from food sources. The body is much better able to utilize certain nutrients from food than supplements—especially isolated mineral extracts.
By consuming potassium-rich foods, the body will use what it needs and pass what it does not. With potassium supplements, if you drink too much, your body is unlikely to give what it doesn’t need and may result in an excess. While it is uncommon, an excess of potassium can occur from supplementation. Still, no evidence suggests you can get too much from food sources.
There are many links between high-potassium diets and good overall health and well-being. Not only is potassium needed for many bodily functions, but high-potassium foods usually contain many other important nutrients.
That being said, certain groups may need to monitor their potassium intake more closely. When you have excess potassium in the blood, the body distributes it to the urine to be removed. People with kidney diseases or poor functioning kidneys may be unable to remove the excess potassium through urine. Furthermore, people taking blood pressure medications may need to limit their potassium intake, as may older adults, as kidney function tends to decline with age.
Potassium is an essential nutrient the body needs for proper cellular function. So, it is important to ensure that you get enough of this important nutrient in your diet.
The healthiest way to do this is by eating high-potassium foods rather than resorting to potassium supplements. This is especially true for older adults, people on blood pressure medication, and those with poorly functioning kidneys.
Additionally, it is recommended to limit your sodium intake. While sodium is an essential mineral, many people contain far too much sodium. Sodium is added to many foods, mainly processed foods. Too much sodium can lead to potassium imbalances, as these two minerals have a close relationship. Therefore, keep your salt intake low and aim to eat more foods high in potassium.