If your doctor advised you to lower your potassium intake, you may wonder if a diet that you’ve already heard of can help.
Plenty of different eating plans exist, and many have at least some proven health benefits. That doesn’t mean that they’ll also keep your potassium in check.
Here’s a closer look at five well-known diets and how they could affect your potassium.
What it is: A plant-based diet that cuts out meat, poultry, and fish. Some vegetarians, called vegans, also avoid dairy products and eggs.
How it works: If you follow a vegetarian diet, you plan your meals and snacks around whole fruits and vegetables, grains (like bread, rice, and oatmeal), beans and legumes (like chickpeas and lentils), and, in some cases, eggs and dairy.
How it affects potassium: Many of the foods that make up a vegetarian diet are healthy but high in potassium. To keep your levels in check, you’d need to choose low-potassium fruits and vegetables. You’d also have to limit dairy, beans, legumes, and processed plant-based proteins. All in all, the diet might be too limited for your needs.
What it is: A very low-carbohydrate diet that suggests you get 70% to 90% of your calories from fat.
How it works: “Keto” is short for “ketogenic.” When you limit how many carbs your body has to burn for fuel, it will start to burn stored fat instead. This is called “ketosis.”
On a keto diet, you’ll limit yourself to no more than 20 to 50 grams of carbs each day. Instead, you’ll eat high amounts of fat and limited amounts of protein. That can come from healthy fats like nuts and avocado or unhealthy (saturated) fats like those found in bacon, lard, and butter.
How it affects potassium: Since you won’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables on a keto diet, you could see your potassium levels go down. But keto is not right for everyone. You should avoid it if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have:
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
If this diet interests you, because it can come with health risks, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before you try it.
What it is: An eating plan based on the eating habits in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.
How it works: The Mediterranean diet puts a big focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes (like chickpeas and peanuts.) You can eat low-fat dairy, fish, and chicken, but should avoid added sugars, sodium, highly processed foods, fatty or processed meats, sugary drinks, and saturated fats like lard and cream.
How it affects potassium: This eating plan is endorsed by the American Heart Association. It could help protect your heart and lower your risk for health issues like obesity and diabetes. But many of the healthy foods you eat on a Mediterranean diet (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts) are high in potassium.
As you would on a vegetarian diet, you’d need to limit high-potassium foods or swap them out for low-potassium alternatives.
What it is: A well-balanced plan designed to help prevent or treat high blood pressure.
How it works: “DASH” stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” On this eating plan, you’ll eat nutrient-rich foods that can help control blood pressure. Like the vegetarian and Mediterranean diets, DASH includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. It excludes foods that don’t do your heart any favors, like fatty meats, full-fat dairy, added sugars, and high-sodium processed snacks and meals.
How it affects potassium: The DASH diet is a healthy, balanced eating plan that many people find easy to follow. But since potassium naturally helps control your blood pressure, a lot of the foods on the DASH diet contain high amounts of it. It probably wouldn’t be a good fit for you.
This eating plan is also not a good fit for people who live with kidney disease or are on dialysis.
Paleo (Caveman) Diet
What it is: A diet based on what cave people ate in the Paleolithic era (aka the Stone Age).
How it works: If you go paleo, you’ll get most of your calories from foods that could be hunted, fished, or found millions of years ago. That means you’ll eat very few carbs. Instead, your meals will include plenty of meat and fish, as well as fruits and vegetables. Grains, dairy products, and highly processed foods are just a few of the many things that are off limits on a paleo diet.
How it affects potassium: A paleo diet is often high in potassium. Its limited food options could make it hard for you to make low-potassium swaps.
Also, a paleo diet may not be safe if you have:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Pancreatic disease
Keep in Mind
No single diet is right for everyone. If you know that you need to keep your potassium in check, talk with your doctor before you make any changes to your eating habits. They can give you advice based on your health history, current treatments, and your current health status.
You may also find it helpful to talk to a registered dietitian or nutritionist. They’ll be able to suggest foods and help you plan meals and find recipes that can protect your health without raising your potassium levels.
Photo Credit: iStockphoto / Getty Images
FamilyDoctor.org: “Keto Diet.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Should you try the keto diet?”
Southern Medical Journal: “Serum potassium changes with initiating low-carbohydrate compared to a low-fat weight loss diet in type 2 diabetes.”
American Heart Association: “What Is the Mediterranean Diet?”
Kidney Nutrition Institute: “Is the Mediterranean Diet Safe for Kidney Health?”
Mayo Clinic: “Renal diet for vegetarians: What about protein?” “DASH Diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure.”
National Kidney Foundation: “Tips to Tackling the DASH Diet.”
UC Davis Health: “Paleo Diet: What It Is and Why It’s Not for Everyone.”