Potassium is an essential mineral that your cells require to function. However, it's possible for you to have too much potassium in your blood. High potassium treatment often involves dietary changes to prevent your levels from getting any higher.
A low-potassium diet menu involves restricting your consumption of food products that are high in potassium. The strictness of the diet will be based on the severity of your high blood potassium and your health care practitioner's recommendations.
Potassium and Your Health
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, potassium is an essential mineral that you obtain from the foods you eat. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends most Americans consume 3,500 milligrams of potassium each day.
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Potassium is important, as it helps your body's cells, nervous system and cardiovascular system work properly. According to the American Kidney Fund, potassium also helps your body's muscles function, including the muscles around your heart and respiratory system. This nutrient can also affect your blood pressure and metabolism.
The FDA considers potassium to be a nutrient of concern because most Americans don't consume enough potassium each day. However, it's also possible to consume too much potassium. High blood potassium, also known as hyperkalemia, can be dangerous for your health.
Causes of High Blood Potassium
According to the Mayo Clinic, normal potassium levels are around 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). High blood potassium levels are considered to be levels higher than 6 mmol/L.
If you've recently been diagnosed with hyperkalemia, your blood has more potassium in it than it should. When you consume foods with potassium, any excess potassium that your body doesn't need is removed by your kidneys and excreted through your urine.
When people are diagnosed with hyperkalemia, it usually means their kidneys aren't functioning properly, as their bodies aren't excreting enough potassium. Hyperkalemia can also occur for other reasons though.
High blood potassium can also be caused by Addison disease, hemolytic anemia, poorly controlled diabetes, or if you have recently had a serious injury. Hyperkalemia can also be caused by certain blood pressure lowering drugs and supplements. It can even occur if you consume a diet that's very high in potassium or are dehydrated.
Treating High Blood Potassium
Hyperkalemia often has no symptoms. However, common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, chest pain, palpitations, muscle fatigue and difficulty breathing.
You should always consult a doctor if you suspect you have hyperkalemia and are experiencing any of these symptoms. Hyperkalemia can be dangerous and life-threatening if left untreated.
Your doctor will tell you the cause of your high blood potassium and if it's serious enough to require urgent treatment. If your hyperkalemia is due to a specific medicine or supplement, your high potassium treatment may simply involve changing or stopping that medication.
People at risk for high blood potassium are frequently advised to make dietary changes to prevent this issue from occurring again. You'll often want to consult a dietitian or other health care professional to create a healthy low-potassium diet menu that's suited to your needs. Reducing your potassium intake can help prevent and treat high blood potassium levels.
Read more: The DOs and DON'Ts of Clean Eating
Following a Low-Potassium Diet
In order to follow a low-potassium diet menu, you'll need to be aware of the variety of high-potassium foods you need to avoid. High-potassium foods to avoid with kidney disease and other conditions that may increase your risk for hyperkalemia include:
- Beet greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Coconut (including coconut products, like coconut water)
- Fish, particularly salmon
- Legumes, particularly beans, peanut products and lentils
- Melons, particularly honeydew melons
- Raisins and other dried fruits
- Squash, particularly winter squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
Be careful about consuming foods made with these ingredients, like fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, sauces and soups. Certain baked goods and desserts may also be surprisingly rich in potassium, especially when they've been made with whole grains. Finally, be sure to avoid foods with salt substitutes, which can also contribute to increasing your potassium levels.
Read more: 11 Popular Nutrition Myths Busted By Science
Low-potassium diet menus limit a lot of foods that would otherwise be considered healthy. Fortunately, there are still many fruits, vegetables and other foods you can consume that are suitable for a low-potassium diet.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, foods to eat if your potassium is high include:
- Grain-based products like noodles, pasta, bread and rice (refined, not whole grain)
- Green beans
- Green peas
- Water chestnuts
Make sure you keep an eye on your portions. Most foods have some amount of potassium.
A small amount of a high-potassium food is unlikely to harm you. However, this also means that eating large amounts of low-potassium foods can result in the consumption of too much potassium.
Consuming Healthy Amounts of Potassium
Potassium is still an essential mineral. This means that even low-potassium diet menus have to allow you to eat some amount of potassium.
The exact amount of potassium you can consume if you have hyperkalemia is up to your health care practitioners. The National Kidney Foundation says that most potassium restricted diets allow you to consume around 2,000 milligrams of potassium each day.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, depending on the strictness of your low-potassium diet, you may need to limit your intake of high-potassium foods or avoid them altogether. If you're allowed to limit your intake, you may be able to integrate these foods into your diet for some meals but not others.
The American Kidney Fund recommends calculating each meal's potassium intake. For instance, you might be planning to have lunch at a restaurant and suspect that your meal will be high in potassium. This might be okay for certain low-potassium diets, as long as you make sure to avoid potassium-rich foods at both breakfast and dinner.
There are also strategies you can follow to try to maintain a balanced diet while still limiting your potassium. When eating at home, always try to cook with fresh or frozen foods rather than canned goods. If you do consume canned foods, make sure that you don't use the liquid, as a substantial amount of potassium is found in it.
When cooking recipes with vegetables that are high in potassium, you can also leach the potassium from the ingredient before integrating it into your meal. The National Kidney Foundation says that this works well for squash and root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.
To leach potassium from a vegetable, you need to peel it, rinse it and soak it for at least two hours in warm water. You should use a 10-to-1 ratio of water to vegetables when soaking. Once you're done, rinse your vegetable and cook it in water. You'll need to use a 5-to-1 ratio of water to vegetables.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "High Potassium Level"
- American Kidney Fund: "High Potassium or Hyperkalemia"
- National Kidney Foundation: Your Kidneys and High Potassium (Hyperkalemia)"
- Mayo Clinic: "High Potassium (Hyperkalemia)"
- National Kidney Foundation: "Potassium and Your CKD Diet"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Vitamins and Minerals Chart"