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Are You Getting Enough Potassium?

Why you need potassium -- and how much is too much, too little, or just right.
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Got Potassium?

Experts suggest 4,700 milligrams of dietary potassium a day for adults as part of a balanced diet.

But average intake is lower for U.S. adults. Men average 3,200 milligrams per day of potassium, and women average 2,400 milligrams.

“Relying on convenience and restaurants foods and not eating enough fruits and vegetables is why so many people don’t get enough potassium,” Heller says. “Fresh and lightly processed foods, including dairy and meat, have the most potassium.”

Home cooking determines potassium levels in produce, too.

Boiling depletes potassium. For example, a boiled potato has almost half the potassium of a baked potato. To preserve potassium, eat fruits and vegetables raw, or roast or lightly steam them.

When dining out, increase potassium by ordering a salad, extra steamed or roasted vegetables, bean-based dishes, fruit cups, and low-fat milk instead of soda.

Top Potassium Food Sources

Experts say food, not supplements, is the best way to meet potassium needs. 

“My preference is food because potassium is found in foods that provide other nutrients, such as fiber, that also have beneficial health effects,” Appel says.

Here’s how many milligrams (mg) of potassium you'll get from these potassium-rich foods:                                               

  • Winter squash, cubed, 1 cup, cooked: 896 mg
  • Sweet potato, medium, baked with skin: 694 mg
  • Potato, medium, baked with skin: 610 mg
  • White beans, canned, drained, half cup: 595 mg
  • Yogurt, fat-free, 1 cup: 579 mg
  • Halibut, 3 ounces, cooked: 490 mg
  • 100% orange juice, 8 ounces: 496 mg
  • Broccoli, 1 cup, cooked: 457 mg
  • Cantaloupe, cubed, 1 cup: 431 mg
  • Banana, 1 medium: 422 mg
  • Pork tenderloin, 3 ounces, cooked: 382 mg
  • Lentils, half cup, cooked: 366 mg
  • Milk, 1% low fat, 8 ounces: 366 mg
  • Salmon, farmed Atlantic, 3 ounces, cooked: 326 mg
  • Pistachios, shelled, 1 ounce, dry roasted: 295 mg
  • Raisins, quarter cup: 250 mg
  • Chicken breast, 3 ounces, cooked: 218 mg
  • Tuna, light, canned, drained, 3 ounces: 201 mg

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

You May Need More or Less Potassium

Besides being linked to the potassium in your diet, potassium levels in your body are influenced by several factors, including kidney function, hormones, and prescription and over-the-counter medications.

People who take thiazide diuretics, often used to treat high blood pressure, may need more potassium. That’s because thiazide diuretics promote potassium loss from the body. Steroids and laxatives also deplete potassium.

Other drugs used to lower blood pressure, including beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors, raise potassium levels in the body.

People with reduced kidney function may need to limit their daily potassium intake.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about how all of the medications you take affect the potassium levels in your body, and if you need more, or less, of the mineral.

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Reviewed on September 22, 2010

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