Topic Overview

Why is potassium important?

Your body needs potassium to help your muscles contract, maintain fluid balance, and maintain a normal blood pressure. Normal potassium levels in the body help to keep the heart beating regularly. Potassium may help reduce your risk of kidney stones and also bone loss as you age.

Healthy kidneys keep the right amount of potassium in the blood to keep the heart beating at a steady pace. If you have kidney disease, potassium levels can rise and affect your heartbeat. Be sure to talk with your health professional to determine if you should restrict your intake of foods that contain large amounts of potassium.

What is the recommended daily amount of potassium?

Most people do not get enough potassium.

Recommended potassium by age footnote 1
Age (years) Recommended potassium intake (milligrams a day)
1-3 3,000
4-8 3,800
9-13 4,500
14 and older 4,700
Women who are breastfeeding 5,100

Women who are pregnant need the same amount of potassium as other women their age.

How can you get more potassium?

Potassium is in many foods, including vegetables, fruits, and milk products. You can figure out how much potassium is in a food by looking at the percent daily value section on the Nutrition Facts label. Potassium is not required to be listed on a food label, but it can be listed.

Estimates of potassium in certain foods 
Food Serving size Potassium amount (milligrams)
Spinach, raw ½ cup (125 mL) 88 mg
Sweet potato, boiled, without skin 1/2 medium (75 g) 175 mg
Plain non-fat yogurt ¾ cup (175 mL) 260 mg
Banana 1 425 mg
Broccoli, raw, chopped ½ cup (125 mL) 147 mg
Cantaloupe ½ cup (125 mL) 215 mg
Tomato, fresh 1 fruit 290 mg
Milk (skim, low-fat, whole, buttermilk) 1 cup (250 mL) 350–460 mg

Tips for adding potassium foods to your healthy diet:

  • Add spinach or other leafy greens to your sandwiches.
  • Toss fresh or dried apricots into plain non-fat yogurt for a snack.
  • Enjoy a cup of low-sodium bean soup for lunch.
  • Eat a small baked potato or sweet potato instead of bread at dinner.

Are there any risks from potassium?

A potassium level that is too high or too low can be serious. Abnormal potassium levels may cause symptoms such as muscle cramps or weakness, nausea, diarrhea, frequent urination, dehydration, low blood pressure, confusion, irritability, paralysis, and changes in heart rhythm. Potassium supplements are prescribed by a doctor, usually after testing for potassium in the blood or potassium in urine. Do not start taking potassium supplements on your own.

People who have kidney disease and/or take blood pressure medicines such as ACE inhibitors should find out from a doctor if they should avoid foods high in potassium.

Low-potassium foods include:

  • Blueberries.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Raspberries.
  • White or brown rice.
  • Spaghetti and macaroni.

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References

Citations

  1. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, elements. Available online: http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/2_%20RDA%20and%20AI%20Values_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, et al. (2015). USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, release 28. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl. Accessed October 12, 2015.
  3. American Dietetic Association (2015). Potassium content of foods. Nutrition Care Manual. https://www.nutritioncaremanual.org/client_ed.cfm?ncm_client_ed_id=153&actionxm=ViewAll. Accessed September 10, 2015.

Other Works Consulted

  • Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (2011). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, elements. Available online: http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/2_%20RDA%20and%20AI%20Values_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 12/3/2017

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Date: 12/3/2017

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC