Potassium is an essential mineral that we must consume for optimum health and bodily function. It is an electrolyte, which means it has the ability to conduct an electrical charge. Potassium is a chemical element with the atomic number 19 and symbol K. This is essential for various functions within the human body. Potassium is needed for nerve function, cardiovascular function (to keep blood pressure at a healthy level and maintain the correct heart rhythm). It also ensures the water balance inside cells, allows muscles to contract, and to aid in the digestion of foods. Potassium also plays a role in altering pH balance. One of the purposes of our kidneys is to reduce the level of potassium in the body when there is too much. The kidneys do this by removing potassium and excreting it via the urinary system.
Hypokalemia – A deficiency of this vital nutrient can be a very serious condition and is more likely to occur if a person is suffering from kidney disease or excessive potassium loss from sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. Potassium deficiency also tends to occur more in those with a magnesium deficiency or in those who have been taking long courses of antibiotics or diuretics. A mild case of hypokalemia may not have many symptoms. A more severe case can have far-reaching consequences, including an irregular heartbeat, fatigue, problems with the muscles (including cramping and spasms,) and digestion issues, including constipation, vomiting, and nausea.
Hyperkalemia – If the body has a surplus of this potassium, this is known as hyperkalemia. It is unlikely to happen solely through the amount of potassium consumed in a normal healthy diet, but it is more common among people with kidney disease, diabetes, or someone being treated with chemotherapy. It is also more common if a person misuses supplements by taking too many or if they take cocaine. Excessive and prolonged exercise can also lead to higher levels of potassium. Severe hyperkalemia can lead to death. When the body has too much potassium, an abnormal heartbeat is the most common symptom.
There are many foods that are good sources of potassium. As always, the best source of this nutrient is in fresh food rather than from taking supplements. The best way to ensure you are getting enough potassium in your daily diet is to eat a varied and balanced diet with lots of fresh produce. The average adult (with no underlying health condition that affects potassium levels) needs about 4,700 mg of potassium every day. Let’s take a look at some of the richest sources of this mineral.
Bananas – Bananas are the one food we think of when it comes to potassium. A single banana delivers around 9% of the daily requirement. Bananas make a great snack and a filling breakfast. We can also use them in smoothies for a nutritionally rich light meal or afternoon pick-me-up.
Spinach – Spinach is a surprisingly good source of potassium; three cups of fresh spinach delivers 12% of the daily requirement. Why not use fresh spinach in place of your usual salad leaves to boost your intake of this nutritionally dense leafy green? Use spinach on a sandwich instead of lettuce leaves.
Avocado – An avocado provides around 970 mg of potassium. Avocados are also an excellent source of other nutrients and healthy fats. Add chopped avocado to your favorite salads or mash it up and spread on toast for a fabulous breakfast, and of course, there’s always guacamole…!
Dried Apricots – There is 200mg in a serving of 5 dried apricots. These are also a good source of other nutrients, including iron and fiber. Dried apricots are a convenient snack and can also be added to tagine-style dishes. Fresh apricots also contain potassium, but less than the dried variety.
Dried Beans – Half a cup of dried beans can provide up to 475 mg of potassium. Although black beans are also an excellent source of potassium, white beans appear to be especially rich; a serving (one cup) of white beans can deliver as much as 18% of the daily requirement. Beans are nutritional powerhouses, packed full of essential vitamins and minerals that can significantly impact the nutritional profile of any meal.
Lentils – Half a cup of lentils provides 365 mg of potassium. These can be added to soups and stews and are a great source of many different nutrients. Lentils are a great store cupboard staple and are an ideal source of nutrition for those with a vegan diet.
Sweet Potatoes and Potatoes – Add sweet potatoes to your meal, and you could increase your potassium intake as well as adding lots of other valuable nutrients to your meal. One sweet potato adds on average 12% of your daily potassium requirement, making it a rich source. Potatoes are also a good source, with one potato providing around 11% of the daily requirement.
Tomato Paste – Do you use tomato paste in your cooking? Tomato paste is a concentrated tomato product that adds lots of flavor and color to dishes, from pasta sauces to stews. Just 50g of tomato paste contains 486mg of potassium. This might be a surprising source of such an essential nutrient, but it makes it worth adding a little tomato paste to your recipes!
Milk – One cup of milk provides up to 380 mg of potassium. This includes full fat and reduced-fat varieties as well as buttermilk. Milk is also a good source of calcium and other nutrients. A glass of milk before bedtime can also help promote natural sleep.
Seafood – A 3 ounce serving of clams or salmon can provide around 530 mg of potassium, which is a really impressive amount for a relatively small serving. Seafood contains many other nutrients and is an excellent nutritionally dense choice compared to meat.
As with any change to your diet, it is worth talking to a doctor or nutritionist about your individual needs. However, adding these fresh, healthy foods to your diet in moderate amounts will boost your nutritional intake of many different substances. If you suspect you might have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, then talk to your healthcare provider, who will be able to check via a simple blood test.