Eating Out With Hyperkalemia

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on January 31, 2023
4 min read

If you have hyperkalemia, or too much potassium in your blood, you may find mealtimes challenging. It can be especially hard when you eat out. But you don’t have to let your dietary needs get in the way of spending time with friends and family. You can still enjoy a high-quality meal out. You’ll just need to take a few precautions. Follow these tips.

Try to pick a place that makes meals from scratch and uses fresh ingredients. Dishes in these types of restaurants tend to have fewer ingredients, and staff will likely be able to tell you exactly what those ingredients are. Both of those will make it easier for you to calculate the potassium content in the menu item you choose. 

Call the eatery in advance and let them know that you are on a special diet. They may be able to suggest a dish or offer substitutions.

Avoid fast food as much as you can. It is processed and can contain tons of ingredients. There may be no way to figure out the potassium content. As the food is pre-made, staff will be pretty limited in ingredient switches they can make. 

If you’re in a pinch – on a road trip for example – and it’s fast food or nothing, try these tips:

  • Order a grilled chicken sandwich. Avoid anything fried, since the breading could include phosphorus, which raises potassium levels.
  • Skip the fries or anything with potatoes, as they are high in potassium.
  • Order a hamburger instead of a cheeseburger.

While all these cuisines can be tasty, they can harbor sneaky sources of potassium. Always ask for no salt and ask for sauces and dressings on the side. Here are some more tips to navigate restaurants serving diverse cuisines:

Chinese. Choose lower-potassium veggies like snow peas, string beans, water chestnuts, bean sprouts, or bok choy.

French. Avoid the pommes frites, which are high in potassium. French bread is a better low-potassium choice. 

Mexican. Skip the salsa, even the salsa verde, which is made of green tomatoes. Choose a salsa made of peppers rather than tomatoes. Avoid beans and guacamole, both of which are high in potassium. 

Italian. Pass on the tomato sauce or ask for it on the side.

Southern or soul food. Avoid potassium-rich items like black-eyed peas, dried beans, cooked greens, spinach, yams, and sweet potato pie. If you order fried chicken, remove all the skin.

Vegan restaurants. It may seem like a healthier option, but all-vegetable entrees can be very high in potassium. Stick to low-potassium fruits and veggies, ask for dressings and sauces on the side, and look for items that have lower-potassium white rice, noodles, pasta, and bread rather than whole grains.

Breakfast may be one of the easiest meals to eat out, since many restaurants offer a la carte breakfast items. Some good options include eggs, omelets with low-potassium veggies like mushrooms or squash, and low-potassium fruits like apples.

You might automatically think salads are the healthiest option. But they can contain hidden sources of potassium. 

To be safe, go for grilled chicken or fish. Ask for a half-portion of cheese or skip it entirely. Hold the tomatoes, since these are also high in potassium. Avoid spinach, avocado, artichokes, garbanzo or kidney beans, seeds, and nuts. Avoid anything fried, such as bacon, croutons, fried chicken or fish, or fried noodles. Pass on mayonnaise-based salads like coleslaw, pasta salad, or potato salad. 

There’s still plenty you can put on a salad. Load up on low-potassium veggies, such as lettuce, cabbage, beets, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, onions, green peas, sprouts, and sweet peppers. 

Ask for dressing on the side, but steer clear of mayonnaise-based ones like Caesar, ranch and Thousand Island. Go for a vinaigrette instead. You can dip a clean fork in it and then spear some salad, so you get a very small amount. 

Some cooking methods, in part because they use butter, can raise your potassium. Look for items that are prepared in the following ways:

  • Blackened
  • Broiled
  • Grilled
  • Poached
  • Steamed
  • Sauteed

These food preparations tend to be simpler and free of added higher-potassium ingredients like butter or cheese.

Most restaurants serve up generous helpings. When you go for a high-protein appetizer as your main course, it will typically be smaller and contain less potassium. 

Some good choices include:

  • Green salad topped with chicken or shrimp
  • Chicken, pork, or steak tostadas
  • Crab cakes
  • Steamed clams
  • Chef salad without ham or cheese

Another way to ensure you keep serving size and potassium content low is to only eat half your meal. A large serving of a low-potassium meal can turn it into a high-potassium one. If no one wants to share, see if you can order a kid’s entrée, side items, or a la carte items to keep the size down. Or, ask for a to-go box as soon as the food comes. Put half the dish in the box before you dig in, and take it home for later. 

Beverages can be a hidden source of potassium. Avoid any drinks that contain fruit juice, tomato juice, milk, cream, or ice cream – including cocktails that include these ingredients. The safest bet is water, either still or sparkling.

Avoid anything with chocolate, ice cream, or nuts, which are all high in potassium. Smarter low-potassium sweet options include berries, strawberry shortcake, gelatin, and lemon- or vanilla-based sweets.

You don’t have to miss out on delicious food and eating out with friends just because you’re watching your potassium. It may seem complicated at first, but eventually, you’ll become a pro at dining out with hyperkalemia.