What is potassium and how do we use it?

Potassium is a chemical element (symbol K) that creates a positive charge when mixed with water, classifying it as an electrolyte. The body uses electrolytes like potassium, sodium, chloride, and bicarbonate to create the electrical flow required for nerve transmission, muscle contraction, fluid balancing, and kidney functioning.

Adequate potassium levels in the body can improve health by:

  • Removing sodium from the body, which can reduce fluid retention and lower blood pressure.
  • Reducing the amount of calcium excreted in the urine, which may reduce the risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis (porous bones).

People who consume healthy levels of potassium have a 20% lower risk of stroke than those who do not — possibly due to potassium's potential to reduce blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart arrhythmias.1, 2

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How much potassium do I need in my diet?

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified potassium as a "nutrient of public health concern" due to low daily intake across the United States.3 Less than 2% of adults in the United States meet the current potassium adequate intake (AI) recommendation of 4,700 milligrams.4

Group AI (mg)
0-6 months 400
7-12 months 700
1-3 years 3,000
4-8 years 3,800
9-13 years 4,500
14+ years 4,700†
Source: 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans3
† Recommended daily value on new Nutrition Facts labels

These recommendations may be affected by the use of some medications and certain medical conditions, including kidney disease, heart disease, type 1 diabetes, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Are you getting enough potassium? Keep a food diary and find out. Track potassium!

What are good sources of potassium?

Food Serving Size Potassium (mg)
Baked Potato w/ Skin 1 potato 926
Red Kidney Beans 1 cup 666
Banana 1 banana 450
2% Milk 1 cup 397
Grapefruit 1 grapefruit 332
Lowfat Strawberry Greek Yogurt 1 cup 316

What is potassium deficiency?

Low potassium levels in the body (potassium deficiency) can increase the risk of kidney stones, high blood pressure, stroke, weakened bones, and salt sensitivity. Symptoms of potassium deficiency include muscle weakness, heart arrhythmia, and elevated blood pressure. It is most common in people who suffer from kidney disorders, chronic diarrhea, frequent vomiting, and other conditions that may lead to severe dehydration.

What is potassium toxicity?

Since the kidneys of healthy individuals can eliminate excess potassium, most health organizations do not set a maximum intake level of dietary potassium.

However, individuals taking certain medications and those suffering from chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure, liver disease, and other medical conditions may not be able to eliminate excess potassium in the urine, which can lead to a high level of potassium in the blood — a condition called hyperkalemia. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, heartbeat irregularities, and numbness or tingling in the extremities.

Additional Resources

  1. Aburto NJ1, Hanson S, Gutierrez H et al (Apr 2013). Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses. The BMJ, 346:f1378.
  2. D'Elia L, Barba G, Cappuccio FP, Strazzullo P (Mar 2011). Potassium intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 57(10):1210-1219.
  3. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  4. Cogswell ME, Zhang Z, Carriquiry AL et al. (Sep 2012). Sodium and potassium intakes among US adults: NHANES 2003-2008. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(3):647-657.

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