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Bananas and Beyond: A Guide to Dietary Potassium

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Grace Scarborough gives you a short & simple walk-through on potassium, an important mineral to know for anyone concerned with blood pressure, hydration, and kidney issues.




Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte. Our bodies do not make potassium, so it must come from food or supplements. Getting enough potassium is important. Potassium helps with maintaining fluid levels, muscle contractions, and supports normal blood pressure. Sodium and potassium are closely related. Potassium helps maintain fluid levels inside our cells. Sodium helps maintain fluid outside our cells (1). You can learn more about sodium in my last article here.


Where does potassium come from in our diet?

When eating a well-balanced diet, deficiency is rare, because many foods contain potassium (2). Sources of potassium include potatoes, milk, cereals, bananas, avocados, carrots, yogurt, guava, and even dark chocolate (2). However, due to the increase of ultra-processed foods in the U.S., potassium deficiency is becoming more common. Processed foods are generally high in sodium and low in potassium. Sometimes potassium is added to foods instead of, or in addition to, sodium. The type of potassium that is added to foods is generally potassium chloride. This is different from the type of potassium in foods, which is potassium citrate. The added potassium (potassium chloride) is not absorbed well by the body (2).


Can I eat too much potassium?


For most people, too much potassium (known as hyperkalemia), is rare. Generally, extra potassium gets removed by the body: mainly through urine (~80-90%), sweat, and feces (~10-20%) (2). Hyperkalemia is more common for people with certain medical conditions, specifically kidney disease. Some medications and/or supplements can also increase risk for hyperkalemia. Always tell your medical team all the medications and supplements you take.



Although hyperkalemia is rare for most people, it is a serious and life-threatening condition (4). Oftentimes, hyperkalemia does not have symptoms. If there are symptoms, they are likely to be unspecific. Symptoms that may show up include heart palpitations, nausea, weakness, or abnormal tingling in arms, legs, hands, or feet (5). You can reduce risk for hyperkalemia by getting regular medical checkups, keeping track of your medications and supplements, and following medical instructions, especially when taking medications. Do not supplement potassium without clearing it with a medical professional first.


How is potassium checked?

Potassium is checked through a blood test or urine test. Potassium is normally included with routine labs. Results often abbreviate potassium to its elemental name “K” (which is different from Vitamin K). If you are unsure if your potassium has been checked, talk to your doctor. Too high or too low potassium is usually caused by a medical condition or medication, not food. Always discuss lab results with your doctor to learn more.


Bottom line:

Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and even dark chocolate will provide enough potassium in most cases.


Getting enough potassium, through a balanced diet, has many benefits. Potential benefits include lowered blood pressure, reduced risk of chronic kidney disease, decreased risk of stroke, and favorable effects on muscle and bone health (2). To learn more about minerals and electrolytes, continue to stay tuned to Snow Personal Training. Up next, learn about how to choose a sports drink that works for you!




Written by Grace Scarborough, RDN, CD





References

1. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Potassium. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/


2. Ganapathy V, Thangaraju M, Prasad PD, Martin PM, Singh N. Transporters and receptors for short-chain fatty acids as the molecular link between colonic bacteria and the host. Am J Physiol-Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2013;304(5):G453-60. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3648706/


3. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food Sources of Potassium. Dietary Guidelines. Available from: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/food-sources-potassium


4. Coresh J, Selvin E, Stevens LA, Manzi J, Kusek JW, Eggers P, et al. Prevalence of chronic kidney disease in the United States. JAMA. 2007;298(17):2038-47. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470284/


5. National Kidney Foundation. Hyperkalemia. National Kidney Foundation. Available from: https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/hyperkalemia/facts


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