Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that is important for maintaining the electrical activity of your heart, balancing the acid-to-base ratio in your body, building proteins and muscles, and using carbohydrates for energy. Hyperkalemia, the term used when potassium is too high, can cause abnormal heart rhythms. If you have hyperkalemia, your doctor may prescribe medication to normalize your potassium and advise you to eat fewer high-potassium foods.
Favor Fresh Food
Always read food labels for ingredients containing the word "potassium." Oftentimes, so-called low-sodium or low-salt foods contain a salt substitute called potassium chloride. Choose fresh meats, poultry and fish; pre-cooked and enhanced foods contain more potassium additives. Dried fruits are high in potassium, so limit them if you have hyperkalemia. Some canned fruits such as fruit cocktail may be lower in potassium than the fresh version. If you eat a canned fruit or vegetable, first discard the liquid and rinse the contents to remove a good portion of potassium.
A normal potassium lab value is 3.5 to 5. The National Kidney Foundation provides tips as to how to lower the potassium in your diet. It does not give a specific amount of daily potassium for someone with hyperkalemia but recommends that if your potassium lab value is above 5, you should take steps to reduce it in your diet. High-potassium fruits, such as 1/2 banana, a medium kiwi, mango, papaya or orange, have 200 milligrams or more per serving; avoid these fruits. Instead, choose lower potassium fruits such as a medium apple or 1/2 cup of grapes, pineapple or berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or blackberries.
Various Veggies Are Okay
Low-potassium vegetable choices include 1/2 ear of corn, six asparagus spears or 1/2 cup of zucchini, peppers, cucumber, eggplant, kale, lettuce and acorn squash. You can leach potassium from higher potassium vegetables such as potatoes of any variety, carrots, squash, rutabagas and beets. Peel the skin and place the vegetable in cold water, then slice it into 1/8-inch thick pieces, rinse with warm water and place in warm water for a minimum of 2 hours. Use 10 times the amount of water to the amount of vegetable. If you soak the vegetable longer, change the water every 4 hours. After soaking the vegetable, discard the liquid and rinse the vegetable, then cook it in five times the amount of water to the amount of vegetable.
Choose This, Not That
The National Kidney Foundation recommends that you choose unenriched rice milk or non-dairy creamer instead of milk and milk products, which are higher in potassium. You can use these non-dairy alternatives in your cereal or in recipes such as pudding. For snack foods, the Foundation recommends you choose unsalted popcorn or pretzels rather than nuts and seeds. It also recommends when trying to lower your dietary potassium, you choose non-whole grains such as white rice and white-flour breads and pastas because they have less potassium. Make sure to control your portion size as these items may supply excess calories. Because you need a diet plan suited to your individual needs, always speak with your doctor and dietitian before making changes to your diet.