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The Power of Potassium: How to Get Enough


By +Elisa Zied on May 13, 2010 11:00 AM in Dieting & You

Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN

It’s that unsung hero that has myriad functions in the body.  Potassium helps balance fluid and mineral levels, supports muscle contraction (it helps the heart beat steadily), and transmits nerve impulses. It also helps blunt the blood pressure-raising effects of a high sodium diet, and may even help prevent future bone loss. While it may not inspire water-cooler conversation, potassium—a key mineral found most notably in leafy greens, fruits from vines, and root vegetables—truly deserves star status in our diets.

The problem is, most Americans fail to get enough. Less than 3 percent of us currently meet recommended intake levels. Average intake for adults 20 and older is an estimated 2,770 milligrams—only about 59 percent of what’s recommended.

So why do we pass on potassium? Our love affair with and over-reliance on convenience foods and beverages (including salty and baked snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages) not to mention fast food and take out foods (like burgers, fries, and other high-calorie, nutrient poor fare) are definitely contributors. Our intake of fruits, vegetables, beans, and low fat dairy products—packed with potassium (not to mention other vitamins, minerals, and beneficial substances) — also tends to fall short of current dietary guidelines.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine set Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for potassium, expressed as Adequate Intake (AI) levels; these new levels were based on those shown to reduce blood pressure and salt sensitivity, and lower the risk of developing kidney stones. The AI for males and females aged 14 and older is 4,700 milligrams per day.  AIs for others include the following:

  • Infants, 0 to 6 months: 400 mg
  • Infants, 7 to 12 months: 700 mg
  • Children, 1 to 3 years: 3,000 mg
  • Children, 4 to 8 years: 3,800 mg
  • Children, 9 to 13 years: 4,600 mg
  • Children, 14 and older: 4,700 mg
  • Pregnancy, 14-50 years: 4,700 mg
  • Lactation, 14-50 years: 5,100 mg

Although the Daily Value (DV) for potassium—3,500 milligrams—is still used on food labels, current AIs are a better benchmark for optimal potassium intake.

Too little potassium in the diet can disrupt acid/base balance in the body, contribute to bone loss and kidney stones, and increase high blood pressure risk; a deficiency can cause muscle cramps, weakness, confusion, and/or reduced appetite. If blood levels of potassium drop too quickly, that can cause heart problems and in some cases, be fatal.

Although it’s tough to take in too much potassium, excesses (especially from supplements) can cause cardiac arrest and possibly death; those with kidney problems and anyone with certain medical conditions who take potassium supplements are most at risk for high blood levels. Be sure to consult with a physician before taking potassium supplements.

Focusing on your overall dietary pattern—consuming a balanced, nutrient-rich diet with foods and beverages from all the key food groups as outlined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—is an important first step to not only increase your potassium intake, but meet all your nutrient needs. But knowing which foods pack in potassium can also help—here are some top picks:

  • Fresh, dried, and canned and dried fruit picks including papaya (a summer favorite), bananas, plantains, dried fruit (dates, raisins, and plums), and canned pumpkin; look for dried or canned fruit made with no sugar added.
  • Fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables; spinach, sweet or white potatoes, beet greens, mushrooms, bok choy, parsnips, and tomato products (paste, sauce, or pureed); look for canned products made with no added sugar.  
  • Beans (white, green soybeans, red kidney, pinto, refried); choose bagged varieties or canned varieties that contain little or no sodium and no added sugar often.
  • Low fat milk and yogurt; look for no sugar added options.
  • Fish: halibut, haddock, and sockeye salmon.


Your thoughts....

Do you eat enough potassium everyday?


Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips, Feed Your Family Right!, and So What Can I Eat?!. She is also a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.  For more information, go to www.elisazied.com, and www.nutritionatyourfingertips.com. Follow Elisa on Twitter and Elisa on Facebook.



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Comments


Potassium is the hardest thing for me to get in my diet.  Yet I eat lots of veggies -- broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts -- and fruit.  I looked back over my food log, and on only one day in the last 3 months did I reach 4770.  Anybody have any concrete suggestions for potassium rich foods that are easy to incorporate into a 1500-1700 calorie diet?

I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday, so the timing is excellent.



Check out this list - http://www.pamf.org/patients/pdf/potassium_count.pdf

I am wondering if a multi-vitamin is a good way to increase your potassium intake.

It looks like from the list that you would have to consume a pretty good portion of some of the foods to consistently get to the right potassium levels.



Great article!  I have been trying to get enough potassium diligently for about 2 months now.  On average I hit around 3500 -3700 a day.  I try to eat nutrient dense food.  Since I'm beginning to increase my vegetarian meals/diet on the whole and am finding that really helps potassium intake.  On the days that I have a full vegetarian day I hit the 4700 recommended intake easily.

Having to focus on potassium has really improved my eating and my diet by making it exponentially more healthy.  



I've read articles that the AI is based on the typical North American diet... which is typically too high in salt from processed foods.  The high potassium recommendation is there to help with the balance the typical high sodium intakes.

Perhaps if an individual breaks those "trends" by eating a fresh variety of foods and limits their sodium intake below the average North American than the AI isn't actually necessary for their diet. 

I've been using this "one value doesn't fit all" rule for my potassium intake choices.



ive been converned about it for a while and cant find an easy supplement. I eat about 1900 calories a day and try as i might ive only managed once in 3 months to hit the correct value. I would like a supplement with about 1000mg in it, any suggestions?



I live in Japan, so maybe its applicable to North American, but over here there are many vegetable juices that contain very high amounts of potassium. One that i try to drink every day has 1000mg in 930ml of juice, with very little sodium. There may be a little too much sugar, but i offset that with the high potassium. Also tomato based drinks are very good, as is any soy based drink. My Japanese doctor recommended these drinks as I have Crohns Disease and need to ensure that i get a good ratio for my 'K-factor', that is Potassium must outweigh sodium in my diet, by a ratio of 4:1!!!

Hope this helps!

 



My multivitamin has hardly any potassium in it, and it's really tought to make that recommended intake. I don't think I have made it even once since I started looking at the analysis after all my food has been logged. It's rough, even with bananas and veggies and a multivitamin.



I disagree with this article entirely. Mineralocorticoids in the body maintain the K+ level in a very specific range.

From 3.8-4 mmol if it goes outside this range it leads to heart failure yes but this does not happen only in abnormal conditions such as kidney failure, hyperaldosteronism.

The body balances your system between sodium and potassium. If you take extra potassium it results in more sodium being excreted resulting in lower blood pressure or even hyponatremia which can also result in death.

High potassium diets are only recommended by physician if blood levels fall below 3.8, as this can result in arrhthymias. Individuals should not try to deliberately increase levels as it it regulated by your body normally.



Thanks for that! Wow - better go and see my doctor again!



Coconut water, if you get the right kind, has 20% of your daily value in 8 oz.



Before caloriecount enlisted this new nutritient-counting system, I had never thought about potassium in my diet at all. All I knew was that bananas had it, and that was it. 

When I saw that I was only getting about 20% of my RDA for potassium though (which as the article says is 4700mg), I really started to focus on it. I noticed that I had been avoiding some foods that are high in potassium because they are also high in sugar or glycemic index (ie bananas and white potatoes). 

Now, I eat more bananas, I continue to eat yogurt just about every day, and I don't feel guilty when I eat an entire baked potato. Also, when I work out and my muscles get sore, I eat 1-2 bananas per day to recover my muscles. I hope this is enough, because I do not plan to supplement potassium, especially after the warnings in this article and comments. 

I hadn't thought about the fact that my body regulates its own potassium blood level, despite how much I put in (although, it does have to have enough put in to regulate it at all). I'm sure, like sodium, it would be bad to have too much potassium. They're very similar in chemical structure and function in the body, so I'm sure we need to make sure not to have too much of either one. 



My coffee always comes up as one of my highest intakes of potassium, which really surprised me. But I, too, have trouble hitting that mark every day -- I take a multivitamin daily, I eat about 2 cups of mixed raw veggies/day and 3-4 fruits. It's a really tough one to hit.



Last august my cardiologist told me she wanted a potassium test. That made me worry. from then on i checked my potassium intake and and foods rich in that mineral. inthe next six months I averaged 3700mg my blood showed I was within rang for potassium and sodium and my doctor was happy. Then the new Calorie Count analysis jumped from 3500 to 4700mg.  It is difficult to reach this lebel.



I generally eat well. Lots of fresh fruits and veg, lean protein, whole grains, almost no processed foods etc. I usually have no problem hitting my other daily requirements as calculated here, but have only hit the 4700mg for potassium once so far. For someone eating between 1300-1500 calories, it seems to be virtually impossible to get this much potassium without structuring my entire diet around it!



I think one of the issues is that potassium is not required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label.  As a result, you might be consuming foods high in potassium, but because the food item in Calorie Count doesn't have a value listed, you will appear to be low.  This Ask Mary covers the situation well.



I've found the easiest way to get a lot of potassium without going over my calorie limit is to eat a lot of canaloupe.  For every 100 calories of cantaloupe (about 300 grams), there are 800 mg of potassium.



This potassium thing is really confusing!  Just like many other posters I have trouble meeting the requirements.  I don't think that I have met them since the new nutrient information has been available on C-C. 

I hadn't even thought of logging in my coffee!  I drink several large cups of filtered coffee from freshly ground beans before leaving the house and that brings up my level about 600 mgs. 

My multivitamin provides no potassium. 

I eat lots of veggies and fruits every day that are on the list as good sources of potassium, but I suspect that I am missing a lot because of the absence of information on many nutrition labels.  I ate kidney beans several times over the last week and it does not appear in the C-C analysis that I met the requirement. 

I guess I will try to find more detailed nutritional information on some of the things that I eat regularly and see whether that makes a difference.

Glad to know it's not just me...Surprised



AVOCADO wasn't mentioned and apparently has more potassium than Bananas.



Orange juice



I've adjusted all of my tags that do not list potassium or other nutrients to include these items and label them such as sardine nutruents or tuna nutrients. these do not have potassium listed on the labels. With that I still don't reach 4700mg. I found out that supplement mfgs do not want to have more than 99mg in these pills for fear of a potassium overdose



For lunch, I have a meal replacement bar (called Collosal 100 by MetRx) and a 10 oz bottle of Orange juice. Sometimes, I will have a V8 instead of the OJ. This is the only way I can even come CLOSE. I am watching three things...overall calories, cholesterol and potassium. I have lost 40 pounds in a month (I am grossly overweight) just by watching those two things. I find that If I am concentrating so hard on those, at this point, it's all I need. I can't eat 9 bananas a day....Potassium is definitely the biggest obstacle I am having trouble with 



I've never got a green in potassium. :(



I have found it nearly impossible to reach 4700 mg of potassium on a 1200 calorie diet.  Between potassium rich foods, i.e., cooked spinach, yams, beans, avocados, tomatoes and fish I get about 90% and then I have to suppliment it with potassium capsules.  Capsules and multivitamins only provide about 3 mg each.   I use fresh low sodium salsa for my salads, which provides a lot of potassium without the calories or sugar.



Great article.  BUT how do you record a multivitamin tablet or a vitamin E capsule or Caltral + D????   This would obviously change my overall analysis.  Please help.... Embarassed



Original Post by: digitalmonitor

I think one of the issues is that potassium is not required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label.  As a result, you might be consuming foods high in potassium, but because the food item in Calorie Count doesn't have a value listed, you will appear to be low.  This Ask Mary covers the situation well.


Hi Everybody,

I have to agree with digitalmonitor: "one of the issues is that potassium is not required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label..."

For instance, compare Soymilk (generic), 1 cup, with 289 mg of potassium to
Soymilk (8th Continent), 1 cup, with potassium not listed = 0.  

This is the Ask Mary answer that he linked to: 

"Why is it so hard to get potassium?"
"Your problem has more to do with the food manufacturer's failure to report potassium. The FDA does not require potassium to be listed on the Nutrition Fact label and so, as a result, many food manufactures don't test for potassium.  For example, compare this generic food label from the USDA to a name brand label for for one cup of kidney beans.  The generic has 655 mg of potassium, while the name brand has none - for the same kidney beans!  When choosing which food to log, click on "See more extended nutritional details" to find the food with the most complete nutrient profile. Log generic foods from USDA food whenever possible.  High potassium foods include orange juice, cantaloupe, dried apricots, prunes, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomato products, dried beans, beef and fish."

The Bottom Line:  Many people are not getting credit for all of the potassium they eat.   Consider following the recommendations in the Ask Mary question.  I will look into changing the potassium message on the analysis.

Thanks for all of your comments.

Mary



I was so glad to see this, but I don't think the article fulfilled it's title.  Like most other posts, I have never reached and only once come close to the potassium level on CC.  You didn't tell me how to do that even though I've been trying to eat potassium rich foods.  I've loved the guacomole but one banana is too much for my diabetic concerns and cantalope sends my husbands blood sugar through the roof.  

I was glad to hear of the recent upgrade in numbers.  It makes sense that if high sodium is an issue you need to also increase your potassium.  I for one am no longer going to focus or stress over my potassium level especially when I have good sodium days.    But for fellow over-achievers it is disheartening to see that red line every day.



I've definitely noticed since this new analysis system took place that I'm not getting enough potassium even by half most of the time! Which seems weird to me because I eat a lot of fruits/veggies - banana every day, spinach, potato, avocado, beans and dried plums.

I sometimes wonder if the potassium levels of certain foods are not included in the nutrition. I've noticed not all of the foods I enter have potassium even though they should. Does anyone else have this problem?

I'd say I'm about 50%, but after reading this, I'm gonna really work on that! Thanks for the great, relevant articles!



Original Post by: Mary_RD

Original Post by: digitalmonitor

I think one of the issues is that potassium is not required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label.  As a result, you might be consuming foods high in potassium, but because the food item in Calorie Count doesn't have a value listed, you will appear to be low.  This Ask Mary covers the situation well.


Hi Everybody,

I have to agree with digitalmonitor: "one of the issues is that potassium is not required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label..."

For instance, compare Soymilk (generic), 1 cup, with 289 mg of potassium to
Soymilk (8th Continent), 1 cup, with potassium not listed = 0.  

This is the Ask Mary answer that he linked to: 

"Why is it so hard to get potassium?"
"Your problem has more to do with the food manufacturer's failure to report potassium. The FDA does not require potassium to be listed on the Nutrition Fact label and so, as a result, many food manufactures don't test for potassium.  For example, compare this generic food label from the USDA to a name brand label for for one cup of kidney beans.  The generic has 655 mg of potassium, while the name brand has none - for the same kidney beans!  When choosing which food to log, click on "See more extended nutritional details" to find the food with the most complete nutrient profile. Log generic foods from USDA food whenever possible.  High potassium foods include orange juice, cantaloupe, dried apricots, prunes, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomato products, dried beans, beef and fish."

The Bottom Line:  Many people are not getting credit for all of the potassium they eat.   Consider following the recommendations in the Ask Mary question.  I will look into changing the potassium message on the analysis.

Thanks for all of your comments.

Mary


AH! Well that explains it! Thank you for clarifying Mary! This must have been added while I was typing so disregard my question. I knew there was a reason and now knowing the FDA does not require Potassium to be listed answers that question!



I've also noticed the lack of potassium on many labels.

One thing no one has mentioned yet: salt substitutes are mostly potassium chloride based. These substitutes are not for everyone (http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/askdietician/ ask1_02.aspx) but talk about a quick way to boost your potassium without adding any calories.

David



Low Sodium V-8 and tomato products, especially tomato puree are great potassium sources. Good luck!



I account for the fact that many products don't list potassium on their labels and find out if the ingredients contain potassium.  I eat very few processed foods, so this is pretty easy for me to do.  I don't come close to hitting the recommended amount and my afternoon snack is specifically structured for Potassium: yogurt & dried apricots.  I also eat canteloupe for the Potassium.  And I eat potatoes (sweet & red) a couple of times a week- carb free diets really villanized the potato, but they're good for you, they are really high in Potassium.  I stopped stressing over meeting the recommendation because the body does regulate the potassium levels in your blood and although most Americans don't get the recommend amount of Potassium, very few are actually Potassium deficient.

But this has really made me evaluate what I am eating and what value it has in my daily diet.  Don't beat yourselves up over not getting quite enough, get as much as you reasonably can into your diet while getting all your other nutrients and staying within your calorie limitation.  Your body will do the rest. 

Also, I have found a 0 calorie Vitamin Water (which is sweetened with Stevia) that has potassium in it, not a ton, but it's a little boost. It is hard to find in any significant quantity in supplements/vitamins.



Jadedblue:

You read my thoughts exactly and I'm in exactly the same boat . I cant consume all those foods to get my regular daily intake and people tel u that ur supposed to get your vitamins primarily from nutrient full foods. Ive been trying to get away from vitamins but i guess iw ont have a choice. I was thinking maybe like 1 two pound bag of frozen spinach might do it but then thought about a huge low sodium V8.

 

Congrats on your weight loss. Are you doing some other dietary thing like a diet program besides the meal replacement bars?

I might try that..i need to lose 100lbs .

 



Jadedblue:

You read my thoughts exactly and I'm in exactly the same boat . I cant consume all those foods to get my regular daily intake and people tel u that ur supposed to get your vitamins primarily from nutrient full foods. Ive been trying to get away from vitamins but i guess iw ont have a choice. I was thinking maybe like 1 two pound bag of frozen spinach might do it but then thought about a huge low sodium V8.

 

Congrats on your weight loss. Are you doing some other dietary thing like a diet program besides the meal replacement bars?

I might try that..i need to lose 100lbs .

 



i love bananas, but how much bananas a day is too much. i usually aim for 2, but i wish i could eat 3 a day. anyone has this info?

thanks



I feel like that AI is way high.  Potassium recommendations have gone up drastically since convenience foods that are loaded with salt have become more of a norm in the American diet.  If you don't eat as much sodium, you won't need to have 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day- it's nearly impossible to get that much naturally, especially on a lower calorie diet.



I have found that between drinking  32 ounces of Cambells low-sodium tomato juice along with 3-5 carrots a day surpass my rda on potassium.



Durian Fruits are very very high in potassium...if you can stomach the smell and taste..lol



I am pre-diabetic so watching my sugar intake. I was also trying to improve my potassium numbers and making a point of eating half a banana most days. When I went to the doc and found my sugar level still unacceptably high she told me to lay off the bananas as they are so high in sugar. I told her about the negative numbers (from CC) in potassium and my effort to raise the levels. But she said based on recent blood work (the reason I was at the docs was to get the blood work results) that my potassium was absolutely fine.... So it'd be great to get the right numbers.

C



Wow... after reading above I went back to my daily analysis over the past week and will be changing how I log my food!  The posts from CC are correct that you need to look for generic listings for everything from french fries to apples and pears,  to flax seed.  to see for yourself, go to your daily analysis, sort the potassium column and see all the items that show no value.  Then start searching for them one by one, and click on the "see more" right under the posted values.  It's truly amazing how much potassium I have been missing up til now.   Hmmm,... now I guess I need to review all my recipes which have flax seed in them!



Mineralocorticoids in the body maintain the K+ level in a very specific range. From 3.8-4 mmol if it goes outside this range it leads to heart failure yes but this does not happen only in abnormal conditions such as kidney failure, hyperaldosteronism. The body balances your system between sodium and potassium. If you take extra potassium it results in more sodium being excreted resulting in lower blood pressure or even hyponatremia which can also result in death. High potassium diets are only recommended by physician if blood levels fall below 3.8, as this can result in arrhthymias. Individuals should not try to deliberately increase levels as it it regulated by your body normally.

Thus people should not worry about supplementing their potassium level. All the above people should not increase their potassium intake.

This article should be amended to highlight this fact.



I would not be increasing potassium intake without having your levels checked first. If you already eat a healthy diet, you shouldnt need to worry about potassium. The "rich" sources listed in the article are somewhat poor, and overall the article is possibly misleading. ALWAYS FOLLOW DOCTORS ADVICE SPECIFIC TO YOUR MEDICAL CONDITION.

"those with kidney problems.....are most at risk for high blood levels" - if you have renal failure, it is quite uncommon that these people would be taking potassium supplements unless their intake of food is extremely poor, and your blood levels reflect low potassium. Again, this is done with close blood level monitoring under doctors supervision.

Avocados, bananas, tomatoes (including dried), nuts, potatoes, dried fruits, fruit or vegetables juices are all very high in potassium. Canned fruits and vegetables contain less K+ than fresh.

For those with impaired or no renal function, excess potassium is extremely dangerous and if left untreated, it will cause cardiac arrest resulting in certain death in most cases. I have lost count the amount of times I ended up in emergency with K+ levels ranging from 6.8 and above when I was on dialysis due to renal failure.

 If you eat a healthy diet, you shouldnt need to worry about potassium, unless otherwise instructed.

 



Yeah, I'm flushing my potassium supplements down the toilet. I've nearly killed myself twice in the past month taking them.



Last year I began suffering quite an irregular heartbeat and adding more potassium to my diet was one of the medical suggestions. I was also given a supplement to take "on occaision" as needed. I haven't taken it, because the side effects scared me more than the heartbeat. I've been grabbing a banana instead which boosts my % but still isn't getting me up to those levels as described! Anyone with some ideas?



Socialbat, you said by taking your potassium supplements that you nearly killed yourself twice in the past month; would love to know what happened?

Unouno - you sound very knowledgeable, are you in the medical profession? Also Amberpamba - thank you both for your input. I am concerned that the CC analysis is being taken too literally - perhaps it should be made clear that it is a guide only since so many food analysis's don't include everything - I checked the "see more" feature for a number of food items and potassium rarely comes up. Also I consistently do poorly on calcium even where I clock the only calcium suppliment option available which lists as "milk choclate" - I do take both calcium and vit D supplements - but don't want to add more items (and calories) to my daily log; if I add the calcium option, plus the multivitamin option (Tropical Splash??) plus Fish oil x 4 capsules, that is already 80 calories.

 



solution, always get a copy of you blood, you pay for it so ask for it. check you pottasium and sodium test. mine are average and i take about 3500mg of potassium and about 2100mg of sodium.

check your tags. if they do not list potassium then ad a new tag gor that food item. you can get the amount from USDA Nutients..

even coffee, bear and wine have potassium.



pardon the spelling (your blood test)

 



and that bear might have ben drinking to much coffe.

(the bear missed the train and now he's walking)



Chlambe- Idk after taking (2) 99mg tablets, the bottle did warn to just take one a daily, my heart rate got very irregular. My stomach started cramping and my hands and feet went cold. The second time it happened, it lasted over an hour. I stopped taking them and it hasn't occurred again.



Comment Removed

Why, oh why, is there no decent potassium supplement available? The only ones I've been able to find are so wimpy that I'd have to take about 40 of them a day to even come close to what I'm supposed to be getting. It's ridiculous. I can't eat enough of the foods that contain potassium and stay within my 1600 calorie diet.



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