Potassium is a mineral that is easily absorbed by the digestive tract. This micronutrient is essential for life because of the vital functions it performs in our bodies. Normal nerve conduction, muscle contraction, fluid balance, acid-alkali balance, blood pressure regulation, digestion, protein production, and metabolism require the action of potassium. For example, in metabolism potassium is required for the movement of sugars, amino acids, and other molecules into cells.
Potassium is an electrolyte that takes part in electrical conduction and chemical reactions in opposition to the electrolyte, sodium. In bodily fluids, potassium is the major cation (positively charged ion), while sodium is the major anion (negatively charged ion).
About 98% of the body’s potassium is contained within muscle cells, while sodium is found abundantly in the surrounding fluid. Potassium is largely excreted in urine and less so in sweat and stool.
While most of us consume too little potassium and too much sodium in our diet, a deficiency of potassium more commonly results from losses in vomiting and diarrhea. In celiac disease, large amounts of potassium can be lost in chronic vomiting and diarrhea.
A co-existing zinc deficiency will worsen the diarrhea, resulting in more potassium loss.
Potassium deficiency results in an imbalance between potassium and sodium that serves to impair muscle contraction. When muscle cells contract, potassium moves out of the cell while sodium moves into the cell. In the event of too little potassium, this normal exchange is hampered and muscle contraction is affected.
If the level of potassium in the blood drops significantly (hypokalemia), confusion, convulsions, muscle paralysis, intestinal obstruction, life-threatening irregular heartbeats, and respiratory failure can develop. The heart muscle is extremely sensitive to potassium depletion.
Symptoms of mild to moderate depletion make us feel worn out:
- Muscle aches and spasms
- Mild weakness of the lower extremities
- Decreased blood pressure
- Poor digestion/ enzyme function/ bowel motility
- Loss of appetite
- Bone pain
- Premature ventricular and atrial contraction of the heart
- Myoclonic jerks
Food Sources of Potassium
Potassium is found in most foods. Below are some food sources.
Carob powder, 1 cup (1,275mg)
Peanuts, 1 cup, roasted (1,019mg)
Potato, medium (845mg)
Figs, 5 (665mg)
Black beans, 1 cup (608mg)
Avocado, 1/2 (600mg)
Dates, 10 (541mg)
Raisins, ½ cup (540mg)
Apricots, 1/3 cup, dried (540mg)
Sardines, 3 oz. (500mg)
Orange Juice, fresh, 8 oz. (500mg)
Lentils, 1 cup (498mg)
Winter squash, ½ cup (475mg)
Chickpeas, 1 cup (475mg)
Banana, medium (450mg)
Skim milk, 8 oz. (406mg)
Salmon, 3 oz. (305mg)
Sweet potato, medium (397mg)
Chicken breast, 3 ½ oz. (254mg)
Ground Beef, 3 oz. (240mg)
Generally, the small amount included in multimineral supplements is very low, around 90mg. Potassium, as medication, is prescribed by a doctor and must be monitored.
Recommended Dietary Allowances for Potassium
There is no specific amount set. Intake of potassium should approximate the recommended sodium intake, which is 2,400 mg a day.
Getting Your Daily Intake
Make foods rich in potassium a part of your diet, especially if you sweat a lot on the job or at the gym. Restore your muscle strength, improve your energy level, be more alert, and regulate your bowels with potassium-rich food choices.
- Eat more fresh fruits, salad and fresh or lightly cooked vegetables.
- Freely season with potassium-rich parsley, chervil, celery flakes, coriander, basil, dill, tarragon, paprika, spearmint, cumin, caraway, marjoram, and oregano.
- Enjoy your cup of coffee and cocoa.
Form in Dietary Supplements
Dietary supplements of potassium should not be used because of the danger of toxicity.
Impact of Storage, Processing, and Cooking
Limit the use of canned and frozen foods because these processes cause large losses of potassium in foods. Potassium is lost from food in cooking, so be sure to consume the leftover juices as broth and gravy.
Potassium status is strongly affected by sodium intake. Too much sodium causes fluid retention and loss of potassium in urine.Interactions with MedicationsCertain diuretics cause loss of potassium in urine that may require potassium replacement. Potassium levels must be monitored to avoid hypokalemia in people taking digitalis preparations for the heart, asthmatics taking beta agonists, and in those with non-insulin diabetes.
Potassium overdose can cause ventricular fibrillation leading to death.
Author Information: Cleo Libonati, RN, BSN
Cleo Libonati is president/CEO and co-Founder of Gluten Free Works, Inc. She is the author of Recognizing Celiac Disease.
She can be reached by E-mail.