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Is a Low-Potassium Diet Right for You?

If you have hyperkalemia (abnormally high potassium in your blood), your doctor may suggest that you try a low-potassium diet. This can be a good way to help treat your condition and prevent other issues with your health.

Who Needs Less Potassium?

Potassium is a mineral you get from food. It helps balance fluid levels in your cells. It also keeps your nerves and muscles healthy and can help control your blood pressure.

When your kidneys are working well, they balance the potassium levels in your body. Any extra gets flushed out in your urine (peed out.) When you have hyperkalemia, your kidneys can’t manage this task. Instead, you have to cut back on how much potassium you get from the food you eat. 

You may have to limit your potassium if you have:

  • Kidney disease 
  • Addison's disease 
  • Diabetes
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Issues with alcohol abuse
  • Burns over a large part of your body

Certain drugs can also make it hard for your body to get rid of extra potassium. They include some types of the following drugs. 

  • NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain
  • Beta-blockers: Medicines that regulate your heartbeat or prevent a second heart attack
  • ACE inhibitors: Medicines for high blood pressure
  • Immunosuppressants: Drugs that weaken your immune system after an organ transplant or because you have an autoimmune disease
  • Antibiotics, antifungals: Prescription meds that prevent and treat infections
  • Diuretics: Pills that make you pee more, usually for high blood pressure
  • Heart medications: Some drugs for heart failure or certain kinds of irregular heartbeat
  • Mood stabilizers: Medications for certain mental health conditions.

Sometimes, regular use of potassium-based salt substitutes can lead to hyperkalemia. Getting older or not drinking enough water can also raise your risk.

What Is a Low-Potassium Diet?

On a low-potassium diet, you’ll try to eat no more than 2,000 to 3,000 milligrams of potassium each day. (People without health issues usually aim to eat about 4,700 milligrams.) The exact amount of potassium you’ll aim for depends on your height and weight.

Depending on your needs, a low-potassium diet plan might look like this:

  • Fruit: 1-3 servings of low-potassium fruit like apples or grapes
  • Vegetables: 2-3 servings of low-potassium vegetables like carrots or corn
  • Dairy/calcium-rich foods: 1-2 servings of low-potassium choices like cottage cheese
  • Meat/plant-based meat:  3-7 servings of low-potassium choices like turkey or shrimp
  • Grains: 4-7 servings of low-potassium grains like rice or noodles

At the same time, you’ll cut back on foods that are naturally high in potassium, like:

  • Leafy greens
  • Dairy and plant-based milks
  • Yogurt
  • Bananas
  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Cashews and almonds 
  • Potatoes
  • Dried fruit
  • Fruit juices

What to Know Before You Start

Like any change you make to your eating habits, a low-potassium diet will take some getting used to. These tips can help.

Make a list. It may take you a while to learn which foods are high in potassium and which aren’t. Ask your doctor for a list. That can help when you grocery shop or eat out.

Watch your serving sizes. A low-potassium food can quickly become high-potassium if you eat a lot of it. Keep an eye on your portions. Some serving sizes may be smaller than you think. For instance, a serving of chicken is about the size of your palm. 

Read food labels. Check the Nutrition Facts on the package to see how much potassium a food contains. Try to choose items that contain no more than 100 milligrams of potassium per serving.

Plan ahead. If you know you’ll be eating dinner out and want to enjoy some foods that may be high-potassium, try to stick to low-potassium foods throughout the day leading up to your meal out.

Rethink your cooking methods. Boiling helps draw the potassium out of some vegetables. You can also try blanching. You boil for 1 minute, then drain and rinse. You can then use them in a stir-fry, soup, or casserole.

Avoid certain liquids. The juices in canned fruits and vegetables, as well as cooked meats, contain high amounts of potassium. Avoid drinking them or using them in recipes as much as you can.

Skip the “fake” salt. On a low-potassium diet, you’ll need to skip low-sodium salt or other “fake” salts. Flavor your food with herbs and spices instead.

Get some support. If you need help with meal plans or figuring out food swaps, think about talking to a dietitian or nutritionist. Your doctor can refer you to one.

Why a Low-Potassium Diet Matters

Too much potassium in your blood doesn’t always cause symptoms, but it can damage your heart. For some people, it can even be life-threatening. A low-potassium diet can play a key role in treating hyperkalemia and preventing these serious problems. Follow your doctor’s advice about what and how much to eat, and make sure to get blood tests as they’re scheduled. Your doctor will want to keep a close eye on your potassium levels.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Moncherie / Getty Images

SOURCES:

UpToDate: “Patient Education: Low-Potassium Diet (Beyond the Basics).”

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: “Potassium.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Hyperkalemia (High Potassium)”

Medsafe, New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority: “Medicines and Hyperkalemia.”

Snohomish Kidney Institute: “Low Potassium Diet: What You Need to Know.”

National Kidney Foundation: “Potassium in Your CKD Diet.”

NHS Oxford University Hospitals: “Reducing Potassium In Your Diet.”