Potassium: One Valuable Mineral

Potassium foods and beveragesEvery day I see clients in my private practice that fall short of getting the potassium they need from their diet. Although found in a wide variety of foods, potassium is often lacking in Americans’ nutritional profile. Much of it, I believe, can be attributed to our fast-paced lifestyles. We eat out more frequently, and when we do eat at home it is often processed foods that are quick, easy, and not quite as nutrient-rich as fresh, whole foods. Variety within the Five Food Groups also seems to be lacking, resulting in missed opportunities to get optimal nutrition.

Potassium is an important nutrient for our health. It is a mineral that serves as an electrolyte and provides electrical signals throughout the body. It keeps blood pressure under control, regulates the acid-base balance, aids muscle contraction, and is crucial to heart function. Given its importance for health, and the fact that it’s often below par in the American diet, I felt it rated a blog article of its own.

Consuming a variety of foods and beverages from the Five Food Groups will help ensure that most all nutrients will be obtained in adequate amounts. This is the case for potassium at least as much as any other nutrient, given its presence in most common foods and beverages. A few of the better sources of potassium include (exact amounts vary by factors such as size, type, growing conditions, preparation, etc.):

  • Potato, baked with skin = 900 milligrams (mg)
  • Yogurt, low-fat, plain, 1 cup = 530 mg
  • Flounder, 3 ounces cooked = 500 mg
  • Sardines, 3 ounces = 500 mg
  • Lima beans, ½ cup = 475 mg
  • Banana, 1 medium = 450mg
  • Winter squash, ½ cup = 450 mg
  • Milk, skim = 355 mg
  • Round steak, 3 ounces cooked = 325 mg
  • Most fruits and vegetables and their juices; most dairy; several varieties of fish (especially trout, halibut, cod); poultry; various nuts and seeds

Daily recommendations for potassium are as follows:

  • 0 – 6 months: 400 milligrams (mg) daily (d)
  • 7 – 12 months: 700 mg/d
  • 1 – 3 years: 3,000 mg/d
  • 4 – 8 years: 3,800 mg/d
  • 9 – 13 years: 4,500 mg/d
  • 14 – 18 years: 4,700 mg/d
  • All adults: 4,700 mg/d

Potassium can be lost through diarrhea, vomiting and excessive sweating. It can be malabsorbed due to some conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (e.g. Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis). Excessive sodium intake can increase the need for potassium, and Americans generally take in too much salt in their diets.

If on medications, check with your doctor before embarking on a high potassium diet (much more than the daily recommendations) or taking potassium supplements, as many medicines can be affected by it. It’s also a good idea to see a registered dietitian to determine the amount of potassium in your diet, as well as its overall nutrient content. A well-balanced, varied diet from the Five Food Groups will ensure not only adequate potassium intake, but most other nutrients as well. Today’s as good a day as any to begin a healthy lifestyle, and eating right is a big first step!


RD411.com online article “Blood Pressure and Potassium,” 2012

MedlinePlus online article “Potassium in the Diet,” Updated 05/26/2012

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