Potassium has several important functions in the body; however, too much potassium in the diet can be dangerous. According to the National Kidney Foundation, levels of potassium should ideally be 3.5 to 5 mEq/L. Potassium levels higher than 6 mEq/L are dangerous for your health. Medical conditions such as kidney disease require a diet that limits potassium to prevent elevated levels.
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Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte considered essential, meaning it must come from the diet. Potassium plays several roles in the body, which include maintaining cell membrane function, acting as a cofactor for enzymes and maintaining normal muscle and cardiac function. Potassium may also have a role in decreasing the risk of developing certain diseases including osteoporosis, stroke, high blood pressure and kidney stones.
Sources of Potassium
Potassium is primarily in fruits and vegetables. Foods with a high amount of potassium, or greater than 200 mg per portion, include bananas, oranges, apricots, avocados, beans, lentils, legumes and potatoes. Chocolate, bran products, nuts and yogurt are other foods high in potassium. Foods low in potassium include apples, cherries, pears, peaches, celery, asparagus, peppers and okra. Portion size is very important when you need to control the potassium in your diet. For most foods, the portion size is a 1/2 cup.
Potassium has a role in maintaining cardiac function; however, too much potassium can be dangerous for your heart. High levels of potassium can cause irregular heartbeat, or cardiac arrhythmia, which can lead to a heart attack and possibly death. Eating an appropriate amount of potassium in your diet can help maintain healthy potassium levels and reduce your risk for cardiac complications.
Your kidneys regulate potassium levels in the body. If you have kidney disease, controlling the amount of potassium in your diet is very important, since eating too much can lead to further kidney damage. If you include high-potassium vegetables, leaching them before eating can reduce the amount of potassium by pulling it out of the vegetable. It is still important to limit the amount of leached high-potassium vegetables in your diet, since these will still contain potassium. A renal dietitian can help you plan your meals with the right amount of potassium based on your individual needs.