Only 2% of People Get Enough Potassium

The body requires a lot of potassium in order to function optimally.  Specifically, the adequate intake is currently set at 4,700 mg. This is a lot for one single nutrient, which is why less than 2% of Americans aren’t hitting that number. It can be quite difficult for people to get enough potassium in their diet.  Persons with food sensitivities who cannot eat some of the higher potassium foods will definitely need to evaluate their current intake.




Potassium (K+) the main cation inside of cells,(R) and has some very crucial and important roles in maintaining healthy functions within our bodies.  These functions include cell membrane potential, electrical excitation of nerve and muscle cells, acid-base regulation, blood pressure regulation, and bone health. (R)

Potassium decreases the risk of kidney stones, stroke, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction and other cardiovascular events. (R)

It also reduces free radical formation, and thus lowers oxidative stress and inflammation, (R) and improves sleep. (R)


Potassium Lowers Blood Pressure


High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease. (R)

Potassium is super important in terms of maintaining healthy blood pressure. Specifically, potassium lowers blood pressure. (R)

Current potassium intakes have greatly decreased in comparison to our early ancestors. We are currently consuming roughly only 1/3 of the amount of potassium that our ancestors consumed, and in terms of sodium, we consuming more than 4 times the amount. (R)

Consuming high amounts of sodium, and low amounts of potassium is a recipe for high blood pressure.

Lower potassium intake increases salt sensitivity, meaning blood pressure increases more with salt intake. (R)

Although consuming more potassium can help, generally consuming less sodium along with consuming more potassium will have a greater reduction on blood pressure than doing one or the other alone. (R)

Potassium decreases blood pressure by decreasing sodium reabsorption (increased urinary sodium excretion), which decreases blood volume. Lower blood volume will decrease blood pressure. Potassium also decreases blood pressure by increasing vasodilation (opening blood vessels). (R)

Increasing potassium intake may increase life expectancy by 5.1 years through blood pressure lowering effects. (R)


Potassium May Increase Bone Health

There is evidence that potassium may play a role in bone health. One possible explanation of this is through acid-base balance mechanisms. Western diets are typically high in meat and cereal grains, and low in fruits in vegetables.  Meat and cereal grains create more acidity in the body compared to fruits and vegetables, which might be causing low-grade metabolic acidosis. This low-grade metabolic acidosis also worsens with age, because kidney function tends to decline with age (the kidneys play a large role in maintaining healthy levels of potassium). In order to buffer the higher acidity, more calcium is pulled from the bones. Potassium helps with bone health, because it decrease urinary calcium excretion, meaning less will need to be pulled from bone. (R)

Potassium may also increase bone health by other mechanisms, but they don’t seem to be well understood, and findings are inconsistent. (R)


Potassium Is Needed For Stomach Acid

Potassium plays a critical role in maintaining an acidic stomach.  Stomach acid is crucial to digesting food so that the nutrients become available for absorption. Stomach acid also kills bacteria and pathogens that could otherwise be deleterious to our health. (R)


Potassium and Glucose Metabolism


Potassium appears to have a role in maintaining blood sugar. One way in which potassium is associated with glucose metabolism, is that pancreatic β-cells contain potassium channels. Mutations in the potassium channels are associated with increased risk of diabetes. (R)

Mutations in the KCNJ11 gene, which codes for potassium channels on pancreatic β-cells, can lead to diabetes. (R)

KCNQ1 is another gene that codes for potassium channels involved in insulin secretion, and mutations in this gene are also associated with risk of type 2 diabetes. (R)

A higher intake of potassium has been found to decrease the risk of metabolic syndrome and decrease fasting glucose (R) , while a lower intake of potassium can increase the risk of insulin resistance. (R)

Lower levels of potassium have also been found to decrease glucose tolerance and impair insulin secretion. (R)

Thiazide diuretics are used to treat high blood pressure, and a common side effect of this drug is low serum potassium. Thiazide diuretics are associated with increased risk of diabetes, which makes sense given the supporting evidence that low potassium negatively affects blood glucose regulation. (R)


Muscle Cramps

It’s pretty common knowledge that potassium helps with muscle cramps and soreness.  Potassium helps to regulate muscle contraction, and people often experience muscle cramps or aches due to low potassium levels.  Potassium has also been shown to help with restless leg syndrome. (R)


Magnesium Helps Maintain Potassium Levels

Magnesium deficiency is associated with low potassium (hypokalemia). We see this interaction between different nutrients all the time, which is why I tend to repeat myself often about the importance of consuming all of the adequate amounts of all of the nutrients. They all work together, and sometimes a deficiency in nutrient indirectly affects another nutrient, as is the case with magnesium and potassium. (R)


Low Potassium and Potassium Deficiency (Hypokalemia)

Potassium deficiency is quite uncommon. However, many people may have a moderate chronic total body potassium depletion because most people do not consume enough of it.

Regular potassium tests are relatively simple, but serum potassium levels do not always reflect total body stores of potassium. (R)

90-95% of the body’s total amount of potassium is located inside of the cells of muscle and bone, which is why typical blood tests that measure extracellular potassium isn’t an accurate representation of total potassium.

Luckily, our bodies do a really good job of maintaining blood potassium levels.  Extracellular potassium is tightly regulated and maintained at 3.5-5.5 mmol/L (137-215 mg/L).  (R)

Some people are definitely at risk of low potassium though.

Risk factors for hypokalemia (low serum potassium): (R) (R)

  • Diuretics
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Diabetes, metabolic alkalosis (ketoacidosis)
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Excessive laxative use
  • Excessive sweating
  • Folic acid deficiency
  • Β-2-adrenergic agonists, xanthenes, steroids
  • Cushings syndrome  - high ACTH and cortisol
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease


Symptoms of hypokalemia (low serum potassium): (R)

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Constipation
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)



High Potassium (Hyperkalemia) and Toxicity

Normally, if potassium levels are high, this will increase the release of aldosterone, which then increases urine potassium excretion. (R)

However, damaged kidneys and certain medications can increase the risk of high potassium levels (hyperkalemia).

Potassium supplements can also increase the risk of high potassium, which is why you should not take potassium supplements without the supervision of your doctor. (R)

Potassium toxicity can occur, but in a healthy person, it would likely only occur if the person was consuming a ton of potassium through supplementation. High intakes (>17.6 g/day) are associated with hyperkalemia (high blood potassium), but that amount can only be obtained by supplementation. Hyperkalemia can lead to muscle weakness and cardiac arrhythmias. (R)

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can also increase the risk of high potassium.  NSAIDs inhibit COX-2, which causes both sodium and potassium retention. (R)

Risk factors for high potassium (hyperkalemia): (R)

  • Kidney disease and kidney failure
  • Addison’s disease
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Breakdown of red blood cells by severe injury or burn
  • Excessive use of potassium supplements
  • Type 1 diabetes

Symptoms of high potassium (hyperkalemia): (R)

  • Muscle fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Nausea


Sources of Potassium


The dietary reference intake (DRI) for Potassium is 4,700 mg (120 mmol/day) for adults, which is mostly based on the health benefits that potassium provides for blood pressure, bone density, and kidney stone risk reduction. (R)

Eating a diet high in processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables is a diet that is low in potassium. (R)

However, even a so-called “healthy” diet can be low in potassium. Essentially, you’ll want to swap out low potassium foods you are eating in exchange for higher potassium foods if you can’t get enough in your current diet.


24 Sources of Potassium:

  • Potatoes, peeled, boiled, 200g – 656 mg
  • Yogurt, 1 cup – 625 mg
  • Coconut water, 1 cup – 600 mg
  • Salmon, 3 oz – 528 mg
  • Orange juice, 1 cup – 500 mg
  • Sweet potatoes, peeled, boiled, 200g – 460 mg
  • Acorn Squash, baked, 100g - 437 mg
  • Bananas, 1 medium – 422 mg
  • Cantaloupe, 1 cup – 417 mg
  • Dried apricot¸ ¼ cup – 378 mg
  • Beans, boiled, ½ cup – 373 mg
  • Lentils, boiled, ½ cup – 366 mg
  • Avocado, ½ cup – 350 mg
  • Orange, 1 large – 333 mg
  • Raisins, ¼ cup – 309 mg
  • Tomatoes, 1 medium – 292 mg
  • Broccoli, 1 cup – 288 mg
  • Brussels sprouts, ½ cup – 247 mg
  • Chickpeas, ½ cup – 239 mg
  • Kiwi, 1 medium – 237 mg
  • Pears, 1 medium – 212 mg
  • Cashews/Nuts, 1 oz – about 200 mg
  • Carrots, ½ cup, cooked – 200 mg
  • Kale, raw, 1 cup – 100 mg



It's clear that most people are not consuming enough potassium, and given the very important roles that potassium plays in maintaining a healthy functioning body, I highly recommend taking a close look at your diet to see if you are in fact getting enough. In my experience, especially with following restrictive diets in order to avoid foods I'm sensitive to, I definitely was not getting enough. Before I knew much about nutrition, I worked with a chiropractor who specializes in alternative medicine, who put me on the most ridiculously low potassium diet, and had me taking supplements that caused more potassium to be excreted. I felt absolutely horrible while following this persons advice. I could hardly move my muscles and get through the day. When I consume more potassium, I have more energy, my workouts are better, I have more strength, and I overall feel way better. Track and monitor your intake, and add/swap out foods that are higher in potassium where possible.