For most people, potassium is a healthy part of their diets, and getting enough is easy by eating a variety of food. But doctors require some people with heart and kidney problems to lower their potassium intake. This turns out to be hard to do, since almost all foods contain some potassium. It’s unrealistic to try to eliminate potassium and still meet all your nutritional needs. But, you can make low-potassium choices when vegetable shopping, and you can learn how to leach potassium out of the ones that contain too much.
Potassium plays many roles in bodily functions, including as an electrolyte, a substance that conducts electricity. It affects heart function, muscle contraction and all the organs, tissues and cells in the body. Hypokalemia is the condition where a person has too little potassium in the blood. Hyperkalemia is when there is too much. This is when the low potassium diet becomes crucial.
Health Conditions and Potassium
Sodium and magnesium intake affect the body’s potassium balance. So do many heart medications, including angiotensin converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers, ARBs. People with heart conditions who are taking these medications may need to reduce their potassium intake. Kidney problems can also lead to hyperkalemia. Since the kidneys are responsible for keeping the correct amount of potassium in the body, if they aren’t functioning well excess potassium can build up to a dangerous level. If the potassium in your blood gets too high, your heart may beat irregularly and it could even lead to a heart attack.
For a low-potassium diet, the Cleveland Clinic recommends two servings a day of vegetables with less than 155 mg of potassium per serving. These serving sizes are small, especially if you’ve been in the habit of trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, which is usually recommended for a healthy diet. On the Cleveland Clinic’s diet, one serving is a quarter cup of bamboo shoots, beet greens, broccoli, collard greens, corn, peas, pumpkin, cooked spinach, squash or unsalted tomato juice. You can have a half cup of potato, okra, onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, beets or bean sprouts. A whole cup of green beans, cucumber, endive or lettuce is allowed. If you want asparagus, you only get four stalks, and if you like Brussels sprouts, you can only eat three. To lower your potassium levels, cook vegetables in more water than necessary, then discard the water. All canned vegetables should be unsalted, drained and rinsed.
Leaching Vegetables to Lower Potassium
If you’re craving high-potassium vegetables, you can leach out much of the mineral by following a leaching procedure. Peel the desired vegetable and put it in cold water. Slice it to a thickness of one-eighth inch, then rinse it in warm water. Soak it for at least two hours. Use 10 times more water than the amount of vegetables. Discard the water and rinse the vegetables again. Cook the vegetables in five times the amount of water as compared to the volume of the vegetables. If you’re using frozen vegetables, allow them to thaw, then drain, rinse, and follow the leaching process.