Potassium is an electrolyte that plays a vital role in your health, but it's possible to consume it in excess, which can be harmful. If you have too much of it in your system, fill up on low-potassium foods.
Why You Need Potassium
Electrolytes are a subset of minerals that your body needs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Sodium, potassium and calcium are all examples. Your body uses these minerals constantly to create an electric charge. Electrolytes carry a specific charge, either negative or positive, like a magnet.
Potassium ions are positively charged in the body. They play a vital role in muscle contraction. When you think of muscles, you might think of things like your bicep or glutes, but other muscles in the body need potassium as well.
For example, the heart is a muscle and needs electrolytes to beat. To contract, a muscle uses electrolytes to carry energy. Without enough electrolytes in your body, your heart won't be able to function properly. The same is true for so-called smooth muscles.
A smooth muscle is something like your intestine or the muscles inside your arteries that controls how wide or narrow they are. Electrolytes keep these smooth muscles functioning properly as well.
Read more: Symptoms of Potassium Overdose
Sodium is another crucial electrolyte. Like potassium, sodium ions are positively charged. It's important to maintain a balance between sodium and potassium in the body. In general, you should have less sodium and more potassium in your diet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that eating potassium can negate the effects of sodium on blood pressure.
Normally, eating too much sodium can raise your blood pressure. High blood pressure is dangerous for your heart because it can lead to atherosclerosis, which is a condition where plaque sticks to your arteries and creates blockages. High blood pressure can also make you feel chest pain (angina), and eventually cause heart failure or a heart attack.
Signs of low potassium levels are muscle cramps, paralysis, abnormal heart rhythms, heart palpitations and kidney problems. Low potassium levels can be caused by excessive vomiting, sweating too much, taking diuretics and having kidney problems.
Most adults should get about 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day, according to the American Heart Association. If you're not hitting that number, fill up on foods high in potassium. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, certain foods are particularly high in this mineral:
- Dark, leafy greens
- Fruit that comes from vines, like grapes or blackberries
- Root vegetables like carrots and potatoes
- Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits
Bananas are high in potassium too. Considering that there are 425 milligrams in just one banana, potassium goals for the day aren't too hard to reach. Potatoes and even potato chips are rich in potassium. There are 90 milligrams of this mineral in each tablespoon of peanut butter.
Since so many foods contain this nutrient, it's unlikely that you'll lack potassium unless you're ill or taking diuretics. In fact, you might have too much of this mineral in your system.
Read more: Low Potassium Food List
Eating Low-Potassium Foods
Excess potassium in the body may not cause any symptoms. If there's too much of it, the symptoms can be the same as if there's too little.
A common cause of high potassium levels is kidney disease. Normally, your kidneys can filter out excess levels of this electrolyte from your bloodstream. However, if they're not functioning properly, they won't be able to remove enough to keep its levels in check.
Some medications and supplements may cause high potassium levels. Whether you have kidney disease or you simply eat too many foods that are high in this mineral, limit your intake if you already have too much of it in your system.
Remove as many high-potassium foods from your diet as you can. Opt for rice, noodles and fruits like apples. Check the nutrition labels and determine your daily potassium intake. Remember, most adults need only 4,700 milligrams, so if you're going above that, it's probably time to cut back.
- National Kidney Foundation: "Potassium and Your CKD Diet"
- National Kidney Foundation: "Six Steps to Controlling High Potassium"
- USDA: "Peanut Butter"
- University of Michigan Medicine: "High-Potassium Foods"
- American Heart Association: "A Primer on Potassium"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Low Potassium Levels in Your Blood (Hypokalemia)"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Effects of High Blood Pressure"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "The Role of Potassium and Sodium in Your Diet"
- Rush University: "Body Electric"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Fluid and Electrolyte Balance"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Potassium Ion
- University of Michigan Health System: The Renal Diet - Potassium