Potassium in diet

Definition

Potassium is a mineral that your body needs to work properly. It is a type of electrolyte.

Function

Potassium is a very important mineral for the human body.

Your body needs potassium to:

Food Sources

Many foods contain potassium. All meats (red meat and chicken) and fish, such as salmon, cod, flounder, and sardines, are good sources of potassium. Soy products and veggie burgers are also good sources of potassium.

Vegetables, including broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes (particularly their skins), sweet potatoes, and winter squash are all good sources of potassium.

Fruits that contain significant amounts of potassium include citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes, and apricots. Dried apricots contain more potassium than fresh apricots.

Milk, yogurt, and nuts are also excellent sources of potassium.

People with kidney problems, particularly those on dialysis, should not eat too many potassium-rich foods. Your health care provider will recommend a special diet.

Side Effects

Having too much or too little potassium in your body can cause serious health problems.

A low blood level of potassium is called hypokalemia. It can cause weak muscles, abnormal heart rhythms, and a slight rise in blood pressure. You may have hypokalemia if you:

Too much potassium in the blood is known as hyperkalemia. It may cause abnormal and dangerous heart rhythms. Some common causes include:

Recommendations

The Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine recommends these dietary intakes for potassium, based on age:

INFANTS

CHILDREN and ADOLESCENTS

ADULTS

Women who are pregnant or producing breast milk need slightly higher amounts (2600 to 2900 mg/day and 2500 to 2800 mg/day respectively). Ask your provider what amount is best for you.

People who are being treated for hypokalemia may need potassium supplements. Your provider will develop a supplementation plan based on your specific needs.

Note: If you have kidney disease or other long-term (chronic) illnesses, it is important that you talk to your provider before taking potassium supplements.


Review Date: 4/23/2018
Reviewed By: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 07/08/2019.

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