Getting Enough Potassium - 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 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 camera.gif. The food label assumes the daily value of potassium is 3,500 mg. So if one serving of a food has a daily value of 20% of potassium, that food has 700 mg of potassium in one serving. Potassium is not required to be listed on a food label, but it can be listed.

Estimates of potassium in certain foods 2 3
Food Serving size Potassium amount (milligrams)
Spinach ½ cup 420 mg
Sweet potato 1 450 mg
Plain nonfat yogurt 6 oz 260 mg
Banana 1 425 mg
Broccoli ½ cup 230 mg
Cantaloupe ½ cup 215 mg
Tomato, fresh 1 fruit 290 mg
Milk (fat-free, low-fat, whole, buttermilk) 8 ounces 350-380 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 nonfat 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.

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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.
  • Cucumber.
  • Raspberries.
  • White or brown rice.
  • Spaghetti and macaroni.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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