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Hyperkalemia: Diet Changes That May Help

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 15, 2020

Because you have hyperkalemia (a high potassium level), your doctor may want you to make changes to the foods you eat so potassium doesn’t build up in your blood.

Often, that means cutting back on potassium.

An Inside Look at Hyperkalemia Hyperkalemia happens when too much potassium is in your blood. You won’t have symptoms until it becomes life-threatening, but certain medications are known to cause it.98

[MUSIC PLAYING]

SPEAKER: Potassium is a mineral

your body needs.

It usually gets into your body

through foods you eat,

medications, or IV infusions.

Hyperkalemia happens when

there's too much potassium

in your bloodstream.



It's stored inside your nerve

and muscle cells

and helps these cells work

like they should.



When there's more potassium

in your body

than your cells need, the excess

gets filtered out

by your kidneys

and leaves your body

in your urine.



Hyperkalemia often happens

for two main reasons.



Your cells may be releasing more

potassium than normal.

This affects

the delicate chemical balance

inside and outside your cells.



Or your kidneys may not

be removing enough potassium

from your bloodstream.



Another underlying condition,

like kidney disease or kidney

failure, is likely the cause

of hyperkalemia.



It could also happen

because of medications you're

taking.



Hyperkalemia makes it

hard for your nerve and muscle

cells to work like they should.



As a result, you may have muscle

weakness, tiredness, paralysis,

abnormal heart rhythms, chest

pain, or nausea.



Many people don't have

any symptoms at all, though.



Your doctor will order a blood

test to see if you have

hyperkalemia.



You may need to change

your medications

or get treatment

for an underlying condition.

In severe cases, you may need

emergency medications

or dialysis.



Hyperkalemia can be

life-threatening.

If you have symptoms, especially

if you have kidney disease

or are taking medications that

raise your potassium level,

call your doctor right away.

UpToDate: "Treatment and prevention of hyperkalemia in adults."<br>UpToDate: "Causes and evaluation of hyperkalemia in adults."<br>Medscape: "Hyperkalemia."/delivery/ab/41/ab41d902-3018-4efe-98c5-1a8d41549bd1/funded-animation-inside-look-hyperkalemia_,400k,2500k,750k,1000k,4500k,.mp403/01/2019 12:00:00650350illustration of cell using potassium/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/hyperkalemia_video/650x350_hyperkalemia_video.jpg091e9c5e81c06f13

Healthy adults need about 2,600 to 3,400 milligrams of potassium each day. Someone on a potassium-restricted diet might only be allowed about 2,000 milligrams per day.

Potassium is in many foods. Some fruits, vegetables, and legumes have a lot of it. It’s also in dairy, meat, fish, and chicken.

Your doctor will likely recommend that you focus on fruits and vegetables that are lower in potassium and limit portion sizes if you eat foods rich in potassium. The goal is to find a balance because getting too little potassium can also cause problems.

Foods High in Potassium

One of the top food sources of potassium may surprise you: dried apricots. Just half a cup has 1,000 milligrams of potassium. Other dried fruits are also rich in potassium. You’ll get 700 milligrams from half a cup of prunes and 618 milligrams from half a cup of raisins.

Continued

And while beans and legumes are great for you, some are high in potassium. A cup of cooked lentils gives you 731 milligrams of potassium. And a cup of canned kidney beans delivers 607 milligrams of potassium.

Veggies are good for everyone, but if you’re on a potassium-restricted diet, your doctor may want you to limit certain ones, such as acorn squash (644 milligrams in a cup of mashed acorn squash), potatoes (610 milligrams in a medium-sized baked potato), and spinach (344 milligrams in 2 cups of raw spinach).

Potassium isn’t just in plant-based foods. You’ll get 332 milligrams of it in 3 ounces of chicken breast, 330 milligrams from nonfat yogurt, and 326 milligrams from 3 ounces of salmon.

Even tea has potassium. And if you use a salt substitute, potassium may be in it.

Your doctor or nutritionist should give you a full list of the foods to limit and what to eat instead.

How to Reduce Potassium in Foods

You can lower potassium levels in canned foods before you eat them. One way to do this is to drain canned fruits, vegetables, and meats before you eat them and throw out the liquid.

Another way is to “leach” vegetables that are higher in potassium to pull out some of the potassium. To do that, soak the vegetables first, cook them in a lot of water (use 10 times more water than the vegetables), and then rinse the cooked veggies in cold water.

Work With a Dietitian or Nutritionist

 

A nutritionist will take a close look at what you normally eat and drink and recommend a low-potassium meal plan filled with the nutrients you need.

They can also help you avoid hidden sources of potassium. These include additives in preserved foods and low-sodium, potassium-based salt substitutes.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Andres Splenser, MD, endocrinologist, Houston.

National Institutes of Health: “Potassium.”

Periodic Paralysis International: “Role of Potassium in Maintaining Health.”

National Kidney Foundation: “Your Kidneys and High Potassium (Hyperkalemia): Are You at Risk?” (pdf).

Nutrients: “Dietary Approach to Recurrent or Chronic Hyperkalemia in Patients with Decreased Kidney Function.”

National Kidney Foundation: “Potassium and Your CKD Diet,” “The Meat and Potatoes of Potassium.”

Mayo Clinic: “High potassium (hyperkalemia).”

Milton S. Hershey Medical Center at Penn State Hershey: “Hyperkalemia.”

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