Potassium is an important mineral within the body that is typically known as one of the main electrolytes. The role of potassium is important for the function of all cells, tissues, and organs within the body. Even though potassium is extremely important for the body, most people do not get enough in their diets. Even with supplementation most people are way under the recommended daily limit.
Let's take a look at the potassium benefits within the body before looking at the most potassium rich foods.
Potassium for Heart Health
This neglected mineral is very important for the overall health of the heart. The potassium to sodium ratio determines how well the heart beats, therefore if one is out of balance from the other, this can lead to issues such as cardiac arrest or arrhythmia.
Low levels of potassium can cause weak muscle weakness and heartbeat irregularities, where as the opposite end of too much potassium can cause the heart to stop.
The recommended daily value of potassium is 4,700mg, but most people receive less than 2,500mg from the foods they eat. Later on we will discuss some potassium rich foods to add into your diet.
Potassium for High Blood Pressure
Studies have shown that having low potassium levels in the body can increase blood pressure. Since most people are deficient in potassium, elevating potassium levels close to the RDA value of 4,700mg may help to reduce high blood pressure.
Muscle cramps can come from a lot of different reasons, but one of the most common reasons is deficiency in electrolytes.
For proper muscle and tissue function, there needs to be a very well balance between calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. One of these minerals out of balance can skew the ratio for all the rest. Since magnesium and potassium tend to be found the lowest in foods we eat today, these are the minerals to start looking into first.
The above ratios are needed to actually retain water in the body. If you are exercising for extended periods of time and aren't replenishing electrolytes, then the water you drink might not be fully utilized in your tissues, and can dehydrate you more!
Potassium for Hydration
The mineral Potassium is extremely important for any kind of fluid exchange within the body, such as hydration, bodily fluids, blood, and more. Potassium is generally found inside the cells, and communicates with sodium which is found outside of the cells. When they communicate, they pass fluids in and out of the cell as needed.
If there is too much sodium but not enough potassium, then fluids will stay outside of the cell and have a hard time entering into the cell. This is the problem we typically see because many of the standard American diet foods are high in sodium and low in potassium.
To improve overall hydration, we want to make sure there is enough potassium to get into the cells so the water can get into the cells.
Potassium Rich Foods
There are many foods that are rich in potassium that we can incorporate into our diets. The list here are some of the foods with the most potassium, but there are many choices outside of this list.
- Acorn Squash
- Sweet Potato
- Dried Apricots
- Coconut Water
- White Beans
1 Whole= 975mg (27% Daily Value (DV))
Avocados are a great source of potassium and healthy fats. Studies have shown that eating avocados can help with improved heart health, and a decrease in “bad” cholesterol. By providing healthy fats and potassium, avocado will obviously be a benefit to the heart and the body.
1 Cup= 896mg (26% DV)
Acorn Squash is a very nutrient-dense vegetable that would be great to add to your diet. Not only is it rich in potassium, it contains high levels of Vitamins C, A, thiamine, B and many minerals such as magnesium which most people also need more of.
Acorn Squash has also been shown to boost immunity, improve vision, and is great for the hair.
1 Cup Cooked= 839mg (24% DV)
Spinach has a high density of a lot of vitamins and minerals, and also contains lots of antioxidants! Also, if you cook it with a hint of lemon or apple cider vinegar, then you can get a lot of iron out of spinach.
1 Large= 855mg (24% DV)
Sweet Potatoes are more nutrient-dense than regular white potatoes, plus contain a good source of potassium. They also contain a good amount of beta-carotene. Make sure to consume some quality fats with the sweet potato to fully absorb all the beta-carotene.
Wild Caught Salmon:
1/2 Fillet= 774mg (22% DV)
Salmon is also loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids along with being a great source of potassium. Omega 3 fatty acids are important for overall heart health and cell membrane function. Make sure to get your salmon from quality sources as these fats can be contaminated with toxins.
1/2 Cup= 755mg (22% DV)
Dried Apricots, if eaten in moderation, can be a healthy option to increasing overall potassium levels. They can also be a rich source of fiber and iron.
1 Whole= 666mg (19% DV)
Pomegranate seeds are a very rich source of anti-oxidants which once again is great for heart health. They are also loaded with Vitamin C, and have been shown to help with cancer and Alzheimer's prevention.
1 Cup= 600mg (17% DV)
Coconut Water is a fantastic way to increase your overall hydration because of its electrolyte balance. Studies have shown that people rehydrate faster using Coconut Water than other electrolyte-rich drinks. Coconut Water has also been used as an IV fluid in emergency situations.
1/2 Cup= 502mg (15% DV)
White Beans are rich in fiber along with being a good source of potassium. Fiber is great for the gut flora and proper bowel movements.
1 Whole= 422mg (13% DV)
Bananas have always been the go-to source for potassium. Surprisingly, they don't contain the most potassium, but they sure do taste great while consuming them. Because they also have a lot of sugar and carbs, I would use this sparingly as a main potassium source.
Dangers of Low Potassium
We now know that the body is constantly trying to play a balancing game with Potassium and Sodium. When one of the minerals go up, the other goes down. By consuming low amounts of potassium in our daily routine, and typically ingesting lots of sodium, we are at risk of having low potassium levels in our body.
A deficiency of potassium can lead to:
- Abdominal bloating and cramping
- Muscle cramps
- Blood pressure problems
- Heart palpitations
- Weight gain
Sometimes the reason you may be low on potassium is if you are an endurance athlete, you don't hydrate properly, vomiting, diarrhea, or a diet low in fruits and vegetables. Some medications can also deplete potassium stores within the body.
It is extremely rare to overdose on potassium unless you consume too much via potassium salts or potassium chloride. This may induce vomiting and nausea.
How Much Potassium Should You Take?
The recommended daily amount of potassium is as follows:
- Young Children Age 1-3: 3000mg
- Children Age 4-8: 3800mg
- Kids Age 9-14: 4500mg
- Adults 14+: 4700mg
- Women while Breastfeeding: 5100mg
Those who exercise daily may need to increase these ranges a little more to help replenish electrolytes.
Final Thought on Potassium
As we can see, potassium plays a very important role within the body to help balance fluid levels, keep the heart beating properly, and keep the muscles functioning during activity.
Because of how valuable this nutrient is, not just as a mineral, but also as a main electrolyte, then we can greatly improve the health of the body by consuming more potassium each day.
It is also interesting to note that bananas are a source of potassium, but not the highest source like generally thought. This food list should supply you with lots of different options to get potassium into your daily lives, and to help keep the heart beating properly and hydration levels up!