Potassium is an electrolyte and a mineral that's essential for the body to function normally. It helps cells and tissues grow and aids communication between nerves and muscles. Potassium also plays a role in the movement of nutrients and wastes into and out of cells. Maintaining a healthy water balance and strong bones depends on potassium as well. A diet rich in potassium also helps offset the negative effects of sodium on blood pressure. Everyone should eat foods rich in potassium every day.
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Recommended Intake of Potassium
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies sets adequate intake levels based on gender and age for a variety of nutrients. Consider these the goals for how much you should have each day. During the first year of life, the adequate daily intake for potassium is only 400 to 700 milligrams, which is provided through breast milk or formula and eventually foods. Children should have 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams of potassium a day, depending on age, while teens and adults should aim for around 4,700 milligrams each day. Less than half of adults in the United States meet the daily recommendation for potassium. Increasing your consumption of potassium-rich foods will help you do so.
Dietary Sources of Potassium
Potassium occurs in varying amounts in many foods and beverages. Foods high in potassium include potatoes, spinach, beans, lentils, fish, pork, yogurt, bananas, oranges, prunes, peaches and apricots. Tomato products -- in particular, tomato paste and tomato sauce -- are rich in potassium as well. Seafood high in potassium includes clams, halibut, tuna and cod. Beverages providing potassium include milk, orange juice, prune juice, carrot juice and tomato juice. Eating a variety of these foods and beverages can help you get enough potassium.
Getting Enough Potassium
You can meet your potassium requirements through numerous combinations of foods and drinks. If you have a medium banana, an 8-ounce glass of orange juice, a cup of yogurt, a 6-ounce tuna steak, a medium potato and half a cup of dried apricots in one day, you'd meet your daily requirement. An 8-ounce glass of milk, a cup of lentil soup, a cup of cooked spinach, a 6-ounce pork loin and a cup of peach slices would also provide the daily recommendation for potassium. Each food group contains potassium-rich foods, so eating a well-balanced diet will help you meet your daily needs.
Adverse Effects of Overconsumption
Potassium overdoses are uncommon -- and none have been reported from food alone. But using potassium supplements or salt substitutes such as potassium chloride can result in elevated potassium levels and in the most severe cases, sudden death. Although everyone should discuss supplement use with a primary care provider, individuals with kidney disease and diabetes should pay special attention, due to the severity of potential complications resulting from overconsumption of potassium. Signs of potassium overdose include confusion, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting and an irregular heartbeat.
Medical Conditions That Affect Potassium Needs
People with kidney conditions that impair their ability to excrete potassium may need to consume less than the recommended intake. Also, individuals taking medications for cardiovascular disease -- specifically potassium-sparing diuretics or ACE inhibitors -- shouldn't consume potassium supplements and may need to limit dietary intake. Always seek the guidance of a medical professional before using supplements. He or she will be able to warn you about possible drug-nutrient interactions and special considerations related to potassium intake.
- USDA Nutrient Database
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies: Dietary Reference Intakes: Electrolytes and Water
- Clinical features and management of poisoning due to potassium chloride. PubMed article