To maintain your health, you need to ensure you're getting the right daily dose of potassium. This essential electrolyte plays a role in several different functions of your body that need the recommended daily amount of potassium.
As is the case with most nutrients, the dosage depends on various factors, including your age and gender. Understanding these differences will help ensure that as you age and change you're maintaining the right dosages.
Women between the ages of 19 and 50 need at least 2,600 milligrams of potassium a day. If you’re pregnant, that number increases to 2,900 milligrams, and women who are breastfeeding need 2,800 milligrams. For men in this age range, consume 3,400 milligrams of potassium a day.
Background on Potassium
Potassium is an essential electrolyte found in a variety of foods. It plays a vital function in maintaining fluid levels in cells, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). When you combine that with its relationship with sodium, potassium becomes a critical force in the maintaining of hydration.
Your body keeps 90 percent of the potassium you consume, absorbing the nutrient in your small intestine. You excrete potassium through sweat, urine and excrement, storing the rest for use.
A study from the August 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that your urine should contain at least 1.5 grams of potassium a day to maintain healthy levels. They noted that higher levels of excretion were correlated with better life expectancy, further indicating how vital potassium is to your health.
In addition to the ways above your body loses potassium, if you become ill, you may experience increased potassium loss. Some ailments that cause increased depletion are diarrhea, vomiting and kidney disease. Your kidneys manage the excretion of potassium in your system, so when they dysfunction, it can directly impact the potassium levels your body has to use.
Benefits of Potassium
The NIH notes that potassium is an essential electrolyte that balances the rest of your electrolytes. In addition to balancing these minerals, potassium also helps maintain the homeostasis of your pH levels.
It turns out that balancing is one of the things that potassium does best. When it comes to your blood pressure, this electrolyte is responsible for helping to maintain healthy levels. Another study from the August 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine noted that these benefits were experienced by those who consume high levels of sodium.
The correlation to sodium intake on the impact of your blood pressure is likely due to the role of potassium in balancing sodium, which, in high quantities, is bad for the heart.
By maintaining the equilibrium of all of these functions, it helps several processes. Some roles impacted by potassium are muscle contractions, hormone releases and the contraction of smooth muscles, such as your intestines.
Your Daily Dose of Potassium
If you're not maintaining a minimum of the proper potassium dosage, the NIH warns you'll deplete your body's stores. As with most nutritional needs, the dosage is dependent upon your age, gender and for women, whether you're pregnant or nursing.
While the dosage changes every three to four years for children, adults ages 19 to 50 have one dosage per demographic. According to the NIH, women should be getting at least 2,600 milligrams of potassium a day, and men should be consuming a minimum of 3,400 milligrams a day. If you're pregnant, in this age demographic, you'll need 2,900 milligrams and if you're nursing, it'll be 2,800 milligrams.
A National Academies committee updated the Dietary Reference Intakes numbers for potassium for the 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which are used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The committee's dosages are based on the highest median intake of potassium in those who are healthy.
Sources of Potassium
The best way to get your recommended daily amount of potassium is to eat it from natural food sources. You can find potassium in fruits, vegetables, animal products, legumes and nuts. Of course, there are several different types of potassium found in each of these. As you work to maintain a healthy daily dose of potassium, start filling your diet with foods rich in the mineral.
According to USDA FoodData Central, some of the foods with the highest levels of potassium include:
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste — 290 milligrams
- One bunch of spinach — 1,900 milligrams
- 1 cup of dried apricots — 1,510 milligrams
- One large baked sweet potato with skin — 855 milligrams
- 1 cup of cooked lentils — 731 milligrams
- A half-cup of raisins — 600 milligrams
- One seeded, peeled avocado — 690 milligrams
- 1 cup of navy beans — 842 milligrams
- 1 cup of mashed acorn squash — 644 milligrams
- 1/2 cup of dried prunes — 635 milligrams
What About Potassium Supplements?
The NIH found that dietary supplements do not properly increase your potassium levels. The problem is that most of these supplements contain no more than 99 milligrams of the nutrient, which is far less than your body needs. Women are estimated to be taking 1,899 milligrams of potassium a day, creating a 700-milligram deficit that 99-milligram supplement isn't going to fill.
You may wonder why the potassium supplement dosage is so low when your daily dose of potassium should be much higher. The FDA determined the potassium supplement dosage should not exceed 99 milligrams of potassium chloride due to the possibility of bowel lesions. Any lesion in your intestine isn't something to be taken lightly. That's why it's best to get your potassium from one of the natural sources containing the other varieties of the nutrient.
Supplements with potassium gluconate had absorption levels up to 94 percent, according to a small study of 35 healthy, normotensive men and women from the August 2016 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. That's almost the same level of absorption as eating a potato or fruit.
Potassium Deficiency or Hypokalemia
When your potassium levels are too low, you have a deficiency; if you've depleted your stores enough, it's hypokalemia. This can cause a variety of issues that you may not realize are related to your body's need for this electrolyte. You may feel tired, have muscle weakness or even notice your heart palpating, or beating irregularly.
Look out for nausea, as it's an easily ignored symptom. You may also notice that your bones have become more fragile or that you're experiencing unwarranted weight loss. Sometimes hypokalemia causes irrational behavior or enlarged adrenal glands.
Since potassium helps regulate your blood pressure, a deficiency will impact this as well. You may even notice a rise in your blood pressure. To know for sure if you have a deficiency, you'll need to have a doctor run the proper tests. In the meantime, make sure that you're consuming the recommended daily amount of potassium.
Too Much Potassium
Some symptoms are similar to potassium deficiency, such as muscle weakness and irregular heartbeats. A more severe symptom would be cardiac arrest. Since potassium plays an essential role in heart muscle contractions, too much can be a strain on your heart.
While toxicity levels may occur from overeating potassium, other health conditions can cause you to reach these levels. If you're having hormonal imbalances or kidney complications you may experience spikes in your potassium levels. Whatever the cause, it is crucial that you seek medical attention.
- National Institutes of Health: “Potassium”
- New England Journal of Medicine: “Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion, Mortality, and Cardiovascular Events”
- New England Journal of Medicine: “Association of Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion With Blood Pressure”
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium"
- USDA FoodData Central: “Spinach, Raw”
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Medical Encyclopedia: Potassium”
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Bioavailability of Potassium From Potatoes and Potassium Gluconate: A Randomized Dose Response Trial”
- USDA FoodData Central: "Apricots, Dried, Sulfured, Uncooked"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Tomato Paste"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Sweet Potato, Cooked, Baked in Skin, Flesh, Without Salt"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Avocados, Raw, California"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Plums, Dried (Prunes), Uncooked"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Navy Beans"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Squash, Winter, Acorn, Cooked, Boiled, Mashed, Without Salt"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Raisins"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Lentils, Mature Seeds, Cooked, Boiled, Without Salt"